by Helen King
I don’t come from a family of academics – I was the first in my family to go to university – and I’m not married to an academic. So my nearest and dearest think I am weird, in a number of ways. Over the last month their focus has been on the amount of supposedly free time I’ve been spending giving talks. OK, I’ll admit it has been excessive in the last month – as well as two short conference presentations, which don’t bother the family that much except that they involved a Saturday, I’ve done two talks for Friends of Classics, one for a branch of the Historical Association, one for a branch of the Classical Association, and another for an Italian Association. And I judged a Youth Speaks event for local schools. And then there was the Day Job… There was a slight diary error in there, which meant there were two more talks than I had thought I was giving when I did an overview of my diary at the start of the year. Oops.
These talks are to groups in the 20-100 range (in terms of audience size) and in the 50-85 range (in terms of age group), although sometimes a schoolteacher brings along a group of their students, which shifts the dynamic in interesting ways. These events certainly don’t get the huge numbers of a radio or TV programme or a major online site. None of them will make your fortune – typically they just pay your travel, usually but not always a meal, and maybe – or maybe not – present you with a (much appreciated!) book token. I am told that there are speakers out there who charge a fee, but I have a full-time job so why would I do that? So it’s not the money and it’s certainly not the glamour (I am writing this on a delayed train at 23:00).
So, why? Most importantly for me, because it still feels great to share my enthusiasms; to introduce my favourite parts of the ancient world to those who’ve never encountered them before. There is something about the live, face to face contact that is exhilarating – I don’t speak from notes, but tend to have a PowerPoint with some key images and words, so I am thinking on my feet. But in this process, as a speaker, I invariably learn something that’s new to me. Audiences ask questions that make me rethink my ideas, or take them in new directions. As I think out loud, I make unexpected connections. I hope those in my audiences who teach will take something of what I’ve shared back to their students, and those who don’t will go away with their eyes opened and their minds stretched. And very often there will be current OU students, or people with OU degrees, in the audience who’ll share their experiences with me.
Yes, this last month it has all been a Bit Too Much, but it has also been great fun!