YOU’VE probably seen him if you’ve been to formal dinners. He’s the man (it usually is a man) on the top table, red-faced through drink and bloated like a gluttonous bull-frog.
He has kept his fellow VIPs in stitches with his jokes and banter (you can’t quite catch what he’s saying; your lowly status has banished you to the back of the room.
Now here he comes, at long last...
But he’s only doing the introductions. No, the real speaker is the fellow sitting next to him. Yes, that thin, pale, anxious-looking wretch who has picked at his food all night and stuck to drinking water.
He’s the guy fated to make your evening, settle your indigestion and send you to the bar afterwards with a smile on your face despite the mass of rubber chicken and Black Forest gateau in your stomach.
Pity the after-dinner speaker.
Anyone who has ever given an after-dinner speech will know what the man has been through. It all starts out quite innocently. Perhaps you have a good story or two that tickles the fancy of someone organising a dinner and they are strapped for someone to do the speech afterwards.
As most organisers will tell you, they soon run out of good turns who are available, affordable and willing to squander an evening for you and your colleagues.
So you agree to do the after-dinner speech. It is flattering and seems innocent enough, especially if you sign up months in advance.You might even fantasise that this is the break into the lucrative after- dinner circuit. It’s utterly seductive at that distance.
Then the reality sinks in. The date looms in your diary like your annual prostate examination. You panic when you realise who will be there in the audience ... more enemies than friends. And your pile of sure-fire material now shrivels alarmingly like an Arctic explorer’s organ in the outside latrine.
What was once an appointment with joy now looks like a blind date with King Kong.
So what should you do if approached to speak after dinner? I urge belt and braces: say your diary is full, you are on holiday, you faint on exertion and you have an intractable stutter. That way you can avoid the deathly trap awaiting the amateur performer.
But if you must/always fancied yourself/ think it will be a doddle, then good luck. You may become the toast of the circuit, like our speaker. Or you may just become toast.
But the interesting thing is, like our speaker, you may end up doing it over and over again. Ah, the perils of after-show glow.
:: Dr Ray Lowry is a retired public health dentist, doctor, academic and former gag writer for the Two Ronnies who now earns a crust as a stand-up comedian, after-dinner speaker and coaching presentation skills. www.drlowryafterdinnerspeaker.co.uk