The gales of laughter issuing from the village hall were testament to the talents of the smartly-uniformed lady standing before us: Marion Canning, one of a small number of female toastmasters working today. Speaking entirely without notes she kept us enthralled as she revealed the triumphs and disasters of her profession. As might be expected, the hilarity was caused by the latter – when our speaker’s training, commonsense and caring nature were sorely tested. When dealing with groups which might be hundreds strong those qualities were crucial.

She told us ‘clearly and concisely’ (her words) what her job entailed and proved her expertise by holding us in the palm of her hand all evening. The essence of her talent is communication and an understanding of the behaviour of the human race, particularly when determined to enjoy itself in large numbers.

After attending numerous formal occasions and noting the ineptitude of of various toastmasters she voiced her opinion to her husband that a woman could have done better. Taking her up on this he challenged her to prove it and this was the start of her career. Earlier in life she had been trained to use her excellent voice by the GPO and then enrolled at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, gaining an understanding and control of her voice, along with an ability to project her words – which she demonstrated enviably this evening. A microphone was definitely not needed.

Turning her qualifications to the job of toastmaster required the direction of an existing professional and she contacted the David Tilt Association which, after some sceptical comments, agreed to train her for a few weeks. So it was that she found herself on the Malvern Hills, booming out to assembled sheep and startled tourists (while her tutor hid behind a gorse bush). Having proved the strength of her delivery she was admitted to the Association. Her work then took her to a variety of venues for anniversaries, weddings, awards’ evenings, company dinners and a wealth of other occasions.

The venues included hotels, corporate headquarters, castles, halls, as well as private houses. Each one must be visited, assessed and its potential evaluated. Being in charge of each occasion means that she has to be prepared for the unexpected, which inevitably occurs.
There were the false teeth which had to be retrieved from under the high table, in view of the guests; the best man’s trousers which split so badly they had to be secured with safety pins; the celebration cakes which could not be served because they proved inedible. And the surprise dessert, containing numerous sparklers, that set off the fire alarm.

Such problems were faced every day by Mrs Canning and delighted her audience. Her command of her subject, sense of humour and ability to mimic accents and mannerisms, made for a brilliant evening’s entertainment and our members counted themselves fortunate that our committee had invited her to join us.

Other business: our next meeting, resolutions and discussion, is on May 13, when Rosemary Prosser will be asking ‘One egg or two?’ Finding the answer should be interesting. Business also included an announcement of a nationwide project, supported by the WI, to provide a water pipeline to a village in Cameroon; a report by Judith Walker of the Federation AGM which she attended; and local events to which members will be asked to contribute.