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Emails to my Therapist

Public Speaking!

Y’all, I have always loved giving talks.

What I mean by a talk is standing up and telling 30 minutes of war stories, plus reading a few pages from one of my novels and then taking questions.

What’s not to love about doing that?

This morning, however, I went to a session at a Duke alum seminar weekend (“Money, Sex, and Power”) on giving more powerful presentations. I was one of the four who volunteered to give a talk and then get a critique in front of the sixty others in the group.

Oh, shit, I was terrible!

(I’m going to recover from this. I really, really am. I’ve just left that auditorium and come straight here to the library to blog about this experience.)

It was bold! I’ll give myself that much credit. The three who went before me performed quite creditably.

The assignment was not to offer amiable personal anecdotes, but instead to make a three-minute presentation with a beginning, middle, and an end. I’ve done that only once since high school and I had a teleprompter then.

I won’t bore you with details of how my effort this morning was a mess. Except to say that temperamentally, I’m a novelist. I communicate in units of 100,000 words, with lengthy flashbacks. Just believe me… (And it got worse as I realized how badly it was going. Perhaps from people’s expressions of faint puzzlement and alarm.)

Now, here’s the good news. I learned a lot. The teacher — Joy Javits — was terrific. She managed to say some nice things that I actually believed. I wound up feeling comfortable and redoing some parts in front of the group, using Joy’s suggestions.

And I left with one tip that I know will stick with me: don’t just skim my eyes across the whole audience, instead make lingering eye contact with one person after another.

Now, here’s the clinker. I have a mid-day talk scheduled for Monday, at Edenton Street Methodist Church in Raleigh. My plan has been my usual rather informal chat. That’s likely what I’ll do, as usual. It goes over well. (In 39 years of giving little chats, it has gone over horribly only once –at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan–and semi-badly only twice, both in my hometown at UNCW where my father was a trustee. Thirty-nine years! Hear that, Joy? )

However, I may well pursue with Joy this business of learning to give a short pitch that’s to the point. I need this skill so that I’ll be prepared should I ever get an Oscar.

And now that I’ve told you all this, I feel much better. Really rather good, in fact. I couldn’t immediately get my soothing and encouraging psychologist husband Bob on the phone to debrief, and turned next to you.

I’ll let you know how the Monday talk goes.

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Categories: boldness, public speaking

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