BY Russell Wardrop

DATE: 25 JAN 2010


Purpose: To bring the life and work of Robert Burns to all the audience in an informative and entertaining way.

The Immortal Memory should be minimum fifteen, and a maximum thirty minutes, but you’d better be good if it’s the latter!

Fifteen minutes is good at small intimate events, and up to thirty minutes at large, formal affairs that are truly “Burns” (though aiming for twenty minutes is probably better).

This is the keynote speech and comes right after the dinner dishes are cleared away.  The audience expectation ranges from Burns aficionados wanting to know you know your stuff, to others who want to be entertained, while learning something they never knew.

You will satisfy all of them by choosing a facet or two of the life and work of The Bard, while scattering in some humour and poetry with your insightful comment.

Look for themes in nature, farming, Edinburgh, Ayrshire, poverty, love, poetry, lassies, inequality, politics, nationalism, internationalism and social justice.

A bit more out there as subjects would be: who Burns might be today (Billy Connolly or Elvis Presley?); how he would have coped with the internet (blogging and dating?); or what he might think of where his country is now (Devolution and European Union?).

Now you have a theme that you can work towards, you need to go about a scintillating quarter hour or more. There is a danger here if you know your Burns and are a bit of a scholar, or to be more direct a bit of a Burns bore. Too much minute detail of the life of the Bard, or too much extrapolation from the many texts you have read, will leave the audience cold and reaching for the convenient bottle of malt on the table to deaden the pain.

So be aware that if you know your Burns the object- in addition to impressing your fellow experts- is to set the audience with only a sketchy appreciation alight with the beauty of his words and have them wanting more: it should not be an endurance test!

Of course, there is also a danger in a lack of knowledge. Don’t let the fact that you are not a scholar stop you from having a go- in fact it is my view that a novice can bring fresh insight- but you must be prepared to do some reading. It doesn’t have to be have to be exhaustive, but enough so you neither embarrass yourself nor insult those in the audience who know some Burns.

If you are not experienced choose a simple theme, stick with it and ensure that you have a few verses of his poetry that you know how to deliver with a bit of passion and oomph.

And finally on the Immortal memory, a word or two on length. As I said above, the Immortal Memory is the keynote speech of the night so don’t cheat the audience by making it too short or too light on content. Do him justice.


There is little more exasperating than a Burns bore who prattles on forever, usually going into minute detail about a conversation with Souter Jonnie or a particular opinion from the Reverend Currie. So don’t make it too long; or make it seem too long by being too self-indulgent.


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