Further confessions …

Two weeks ago I wrote about my experiences as a virtual Masonic speaker. Like all of us, I have had to adapt to Covid-19, the lockdown and the suspension of Masonic activities. I have also learned very quickly to take my talks online.

Having done so I have found new and bigger audiences. For example, my talk, “The historic links between the Craft, Mark and Royal Arch” for the new Facebook group “Freemasons without Borders” attracted 291 attendees for the live delivery on 23rd June and (so far) 741 views on YouTube.

Early on I decided that online talks are probably better with slides. In a live setting I know I can hold an audience so I had not created visual aids for all my talks. As I often say, I am the presenter, not PowerPoint.

However, in the online setting slides can help keep the audience focused, especially when they are sitting among domestic distractions. So, I have created slide packs with images designed to stimulate and foster curiosity or amusement (and am grateful to Bro. Gerald Sclater for permission to use the following).

I have also found a new interest in some of my older talks, so I have polished and updated, for example, “Seven habits of highly successful Lodges”, “Freemasonry: does it live up to expectations?” and “The Royal Arch – what is it all about?”.

Updating these has also helped me grow. I have gone deeper into my research, gathered more data, read more books and articles and traced more primary sources.

I have also “finished” my latest talk, “What is Freemasonry’s fascination with completion?”, which examines the historic and narrative references to “completion” in the Royal Arch and gives my own interpretation of the deeper meaning of that ceremony. In truth, I suspect it won’t be “finished” until I deliver it and even then I am sure I will continue to develop it.

Whoever said that teaching is a learning experience had it absolutely right. I am polishing my ashlar to help “bring out all that is potentially contained within” and while I am far from perfect I know I am a better man.

I desperately want to get back to real Masonic meetings but in the meantime, virtual gatherings are the best we have. Going forward, I am sure online deliveries will continue to be part of my repertoire.

Confessions of an online Masonic lecturer

Ten weeks ago I thought Zoom was an ice lolly. Seventeen online talks later it’s my direct link to an audience that has so far gone over 1,000. This is my story (so far).

It all started when Josh asked me if I would deliver my talk, “The future of Freemasonry: evolution & change” (the 2018 Cornwallis Lecture), to an online meeting of Leeds Light Blues. Most of us were very new to this, thrown into a flurry of Zoom meetings in our rush to adapt and adjust to the Covid-19 driven suspension of Masonic meetings. Josh and his team were already leading the way and had the skills to make it work. Safe in their hands I tentatively felt my way into a new universe.

Now, please understand. I love engaging with a live audience. I love speaking, getting my message across, monitoring the body language as it gives away peoples’ reactions, responding to their questions, reading the room, noticing who wants to ask but is holding back, debating issues and – yes, unashamedly – seeing and feeling my efforts appreciated.

Some say I am quite good at this stuff.

How would it work online, when all I could see were postage stamp versions of my audience?

Well, it requires an adjustment. It’s no good wishing it were different. You have to embrace the opportunity you have been given, quickly learn new skills, take the feedback that you can and respond accordingly.

That first talk had an audience of 74 and raised £525 (plus gift-aid) in online donations for my charity appeal, in aid of the UGLE / MCF Community Fund. The immediate feedback was great, as was the follow-up. It very quickly led to more invitations as guests invited me to their Light Blues Clubs and Provinces.

After the second, for Cheshire Masters’ & Masons’ Forum, I realised a pattern was developing. There needed to be two hosts; a “presiding officer” (a bit like a WM) and a “tech guy” (a bit like a DofC). It was clear that access to the call and security were issues and that registrations involved a lot of work on the part of the host. So, I looked at best practice, drafted some guidance notes and opened an Eventbrite account.

The guidance notes give new hosts and me a framework to discuss and agree how their event would work. Eventbrite, which includes a scheduled email system, relieved them of the burden of responding to email registrations. Coupled with the Everyday Hero fundraising platform linked to my Prestonian Relief Chest, and social media marketing, we were ready to step up to the next level.

I also found I liked doing my own warm up. A tricky one this as it is not my event and before the formal start I have not been introduced. But, chatting with people as they come online certainly helps me to take the temperature of the audience and build some rapport. And audience rapport is essential if a speaker is to have a positive effect.

Of the seventeen talks I have done so far, two have been for overseas Districts (South America, Southern Division, and Trinidad & Tobago). On many talks there have been people sign in from various European countries, Africa, Iceland (thank you Olafur), the USA, South America, Asia, Australasia – as well as all parts of the UK. While I have travelled to four continents to deliver my Prestonian Lecture, I could not expect to have got such a wide exposure so quickly.

It is interesting to see how different organisers run their online lectures. One asked audience members to switch off their camera as well as their microphones, actually depriving the speaker of any visual connection with their audience and any source of feedback. Others distribute their meeting codes widely, opening up their events to the possibility of gatecrashers. We are all learning and I am sure we will see good practice develop for some time to come.

As I have held a number of Masonic lectureships, it has been interesting to see new organisers join the field.

I have been working with UGLE’s Learning & Development Team and my fellow Prestonian Lecturers to record and publish our work on Solomon. This involved new learning again as we struggled to make good quality sound recordings over PowerPoint slides. My own lecture, “Scouting & Freemasonry: two parallel organisations?”, was the first to go up and tomorrow (19th June) we will hold the first live Q&A to a global audience.

On Tuesday (23rd June) I will be the twelfth “Freemasons without Borders” lecturer, following in the illustrious footsteps (or is it seats?) of two Grand Masters and two Grand Secretaries, with my talk, “The historic links between the Craft, mark & Royal Arch degrees.”

Without doubt, the stars of this new platform are the Light Blues Clubs. They have the technical skills, the social marketing experience and the enthusiasm to make online talks for large audiences work. In the vast majority of cases they have had excellent support from their Provinces who have recognised that these brethren can be relied upon to do a great job and to further the cause of Masonic education. As the Head of Learning & Development for the Province of West Kent, I am looking forward to developing my team’s relationship with our Light Blues Club.

Online lectures may not replace the live experience, but they are the best we can have for now. Once our meetings resume I will certainly continue to deliver some online, especially for my new found friends in Light Blues Clubs.

Launching my new website

Welcome to my new style Prestonian 2012 website.

Back in 2011 I started a blog to record my Prestonian journey and made a few entries before turning to use social media, and especially Twitter. W Bro. Trevor Brearley kindly set up and ran a separate website focused on my Prestonian Lecture, its deliveries, the book, charities, etc.

My Prestonian WordPress (blog) site sat dormant. Until now.

In the last 8 years I have delivered my Prestonian Lecture on 122 occasions in every Province in England & Wales and in a number of Districts and jurisdictions overseas. It has raised almost £80,000 for my Prestonian charities. The lecture continues to be sought after and I am still receiving enquiries for bookings. This month (June 2020) it was the first Prestonian lecture to be published in movie format on Solomon.

Inevitably my range of other Masonic talks has expanded. I have written about Masonic history and about issues facing its future. I have been honoured with the award of a number of other Masonic lectureships.

So, I wanted to expand the scope of the website to cover my other talks and Masonic activities. The WordPress (blog) site is an ideal platform for this.

So, please forward this to your friends and contacts in Scouting and Freemasonry and encourage them to sign up.

Research for the Prestonian

My research is going pretty well so far.  I have had tremendous support from KLA Lodges, UGLE, The Scout Association, etc, and have a number of good stories to tell.

I’m hoping that my trip to Gilwell tomorrow will provide me with some good info about the benefits of The Grand Charity grant.  And then back to UGLE for a little bit more on B-P & Freemasonry, and some photographs of jewels.


2012 Prestonian Lecture charities chosen

I have chosen two charities to be supported from the proceeds of the 2012 Prestonian Lecture.  One is a Masonic charity and the other a Scouting one.  Both are worthy causes, much deserving of our support. 

The Masonic charity is the Masonic Samaritan Fund, which provides grants for medical, dental and respite care and support to Freemasons, their wives, partners, widows and dependants, who have a diagnosed need, face a long wait for treatment on the National Health Service and who can not afford to fund it themselves without incurring financial hardship.  Each year the Masonic Samaritan Fund makes grants of over £4,000,000 – more than £11,000 per day.  So far no qualifying petitioner has been refused relief due to a lack of funds.  However, the UK has an aging population.  By 2025 it is expected that almost two million people will be over the age of 90 and one million will suffer from dementia.  Coupled with cuts in public sector finances, the Masonic Samaritan Fund faces increasing calls upon its resources.  Proceeds from the Prestonian Lecture will help the Masonic Samaritan Fund to continue its good work in looking after us and our families when we need it most.   More information about the Masonic Samaritan Fund can be found at www.msfund.org.uk.  The Fund’s registered charity number in England & Wales is 1130424.

The Scouting charitable cause is the development of the UK Scout Association’s archives.  As the home of the worldwide Scout Movement, the UK has a particular responsibility to protect the many unique and irreplaceable national and international documents and artefacts that date from Scouting’s origins to the present day.  These documents range from Baden-Powell’s handwritten manuscript for “Scouting for Boys” to current plans for growing Scouting’s capacity to satisfy the 35,000 young people who are waiting to join.  £40,000 is needed to digitise the archive and to move it into a climate controlled environment, preserving it and enabling Scouting’s legacy to be shared with a wider audience and future generations.   With your support The Scout Association will also be able to complete an archive website to make heritage material available to the public in the UK and overseas.  For more information about Scouting in the UK please visit www.scout.org.uk.  I would hope that proceeds from the Prestonian Lecture could meet the full cost of this globally significant project, so that no draw need be made on The Scout Association’s own funds, which can then be applied to the growth and development of Scouting, for today and tomorrows’ young people. The Scout Association’s registered charity number in England & Wales is 306101.

You can donate safely online by going to www.virginmoneygiving.com/prestonian2012 or to www.justgiving.com/prestonian2012TSA.