Things I’ve learned working in a museum (part VI)

That public speaking can be fun…

Which is something you’d not have heard me say a few years ago. Public speaking has always been a major phobia of mine. When I was a child, speaking at all was difficult! I was a painfully shy, incredibly frustrating child! I’m still incredibly frustrating to talk to because of my incredible indecisiveness and over-politeness, but that’s another issue entirely. The speaking has become easier. A lot of it is just to do with growing up, and some of it is down to practice. Which is occasionally forced upon me, and sometimes done by choice (I’m such a sado-masochist!).

And this week I gave a public talk by choice! The 10 Minute Talk programme at the museum is really nice – it’s a short length of time to have to speak for, the audience is usually small, with a smattering of regulars and curators who are there most weeks, so it’s a nice safe little environment with not too much chance of embarrassment! The most wonderful thing about giving talks at work is that you are entirely free to talk about whatever you want, rather than having a topic forced upon you, which gives quite a lot of freedom and also allows you to talk about something you’re really interested in, and that makes it a much more enjoyable experience all round!

So this week I talked about Gideon Mantell (one of the first real pioneers of palaeontology, and the discoverer of 4 dinosaur species (although two of them are a little dubious these days!)). And I picked out some dinosaur material from our collections to pass round for people to have a good look at (we have some dinosaur material that came from Thomas Brown, a big collector of rocks and fossils, who Mantell exchanged material with over the years. I found some nice Iguanodon and Megalosaurus teeth and limb bone fragments). I had lots of pictures of fantastic 19th Century reconstructions of dinosaurs, like this one (love the dopey expression!):

and I regaled the people with a couple of quotes from Mantell’s own journal, which I found on a shelf at our store building, and which started this whole ‘wouldn’t it be fun to do a talk about Mantell’ idea. It’s a great read. Between the musings about the weather and lengthly discourses on political matters, it has some fantastic entries, including “Today I saw the exhibition of a learned pig!” and other such gems. Which I didn’t actually use, because it was pretty irrelevant! Unfortunately it’s a hard book to get hold of, because it had a really limited run when it was published in 1940, and I don’t think it’s ever been republished.

And I think the talk went well. Everyone said they really enjoyed it, and they didn’t look like they were just being polite…and I enjoyed it, which is probably the best indicator that it went well! My hands were visibly shaking a little as I was holding my pictures up, and I was a bit nervous, but in a good way. Not in an overwhelming ‘aaarrrgh I can’t function’ kind of way like when I was younger. I am finally taming the beast! Public speaking still scares me, but it’s no longer the horrendous torture that it used to be. And sometimes it can even be…fun! Who knew?

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