What a great weekend! Thanks to everyone who stopped by my table at the IHM National Parenting and Homeschool Conference. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. I had a lousy wifi and cell connection, so I didn’t get to post pictures or successfully do any live videos.
So here’s a quick photo dump:
And my daughter was only slightly mortified to snap selfies of me. But don’t worry, I bought her a fiction book and allowed her to eat huge Belgian waffles covered with whipped cream both mornings so we’re still on good terms.
My talk went well, meaning the attendees laughed when they were supposed to, and I didn’t feel violently ill before or after. It was a far cry from how I felt last year after speaking at my local homeschool conference and the Edel Gathering.
Time for some back story. [insert wavy flashback fade here]
A few years ago I first considered the idea of public speaking. Shortly thereafter, the opportunity to talk locally came up. It seemed a good opportunity to get my feet wet in front of a friendly crowd. And then a few months later, I was offered the opportunity to speak at Edel. It seemed like people wanted to hear me speak, and that maybe God was pushing me in that direction. But, I hadn’t done any public speaking since college. Sure, I’ve been in a few plays, so I was used to being in front of a crowd, but preparing a talk was unfamiliar territory. I spent a couple months before my first talk, typing out page after page of notes, thinking I needed to write down every word I wanted to say, and then memorize it like a script.
It was an awful experience.
A 40-45 minute talk requires at least ten typed pages. I wondered how professional speakers ever wrote and memorized more than one talk. I finalized my first talk “How to Homeschool During Difficult Circumstances” only a few days before the event, and wound up stiffly reading it from the podium to a small crowd of about 40-50 people. Friends said it was a good talk, but I was very disappointed. And now, I had only two months until I was to speak at Edel, in front of 300 women. I got severe writers block. I had no idea what to say or write about. I spent hours at the library trying to crank out ten plus pages, then scrapping it all the next night. Finally, inspiration struck about a month out, and I was able to start putting a complete talk together. Again, I believed I needed to type out every word. I finished the talk a few days before flying to Charleston, SC. I was sick with nerves all day Saturday, and had to force food down at lunch. Thankfully, I was surrounded by a wonderful crowd of women who laughed and seemed to enjoy my talk, even though I rigidly read it from behind the podium, terrified that I was letting down the organizers, who had taken such a chance on a green horn like me. After my talk, I wanted to hide in my room and cry. I held it together, and ultimately went on to have a great Saturday night and Sunday, relieved I was done with my talk, and thoroughly convinced that public speaking was NOT for me and that I would never, ever do it again..
…except I’d already committed to shortening and revising my Edel talk to present for another event. AND it needed to be memorized because I’d be on camera. I came back from Edel and immediately started to panic. I had only a week before I was scheduled to be recorded. I was paralyzed with fear, so I cancelled.
I felt horrible because I don’t break commitments. I will follow through on a promise or commitment through almost any circumstance, but I couldn’t do it this time. The organizer was very polite and understanding, and while I was relieved I didn’t have to speak, I hated myself for not being able to uphold my end of the deal. It cemented my decision to never speak again. I pulled down the speaking page from my blog and tried to forget all about it.
But, a certain mentor kept after me about it. She offered advice, and encouragement on how to go about preparing for the “next time”, even though I didn’t think such a time would ever happen. I knew people enjoyed the talks I gave, and that in some ways I was being too hard on myself, but the anxiety I experienced seemed too great an obstacle to overcome.
At the beginning of this year, I started writing my book (the “big” one, not the retreat one) and I realized if it was picked up by a decent sized publishing house (which is my goal) it would be in my best interests to do a book tour and talk about the book. I could either re-live all the anxiety and nausea from my previous experiences, or I could work on improving my public speaking. I asked for advice, I read several books. And I jumped on board the Periscope bandwagon and tried my hand at live broadcasting. What I learned was that I was going about preparing a talk in the absolute worst way, so I completely changed my approach.
Through practice, I learned to pick a topic, write up a few notes and then deliver an impromptu talk via Periscope, and later Facebook Live. There was very little stress involved as I have few followers on Periscope, and even when I made mistakes, the experience still felt better than just reading a talk. I put the speaking page back up, promoted it a bit and even added an ‘online talk’ option. Tony was a bit hesitant. He remembered how stressed out I’d been before and wanted to make sure I really wanted to put myself back out there.
For a while, there were no takers, and I didn’t know how hard I should promote myself. On one hand, I wanted another shot to get it right, but on the other, I was still pretty scared of screwing up. I decided that if I was to be any kind of speaker, the opportunities would just have to appear. I left it squarely in God’s court. Then out of the blue I received an invitation to speak at an IHM Homeschool Conference in Dobbs Ferry, NY, just north of NYC in August. I was thrilled. I thought it would be a great opportunity to get back into speaking, and I’d have plenty of time to prepare.
Then, less then two months out, they asked if I’d speak at the National IHM Conference in Virginia. I admit to hesitating, but ultimately, Tony and I decided it was too good an opportunity to pass up. I had told God it was in His hands, so it didn’t seem right to then refuse.
I accepted, started preparing, and from the get go, the experience was the complete opposite of last year’s nightmare. I quickly put together a two page outline and spent a month refining and practicing. I approached the podium on Friday night with a few butterflies, but confident, and afterwards, not only relieved, but happy.
I’m not the most polished speaker by a long shot, but I’m so glad I gave public speaking another shot. I think the moral of the story is, sometimes, you’re called to do something and you try to do it, and you fail. But that doesn’t necessary mean you’re weren’t called, it just means you need to try harder, or in a different way. We’re not always asked to do what comes easy, or naturally. (You’d think I’d know that by now.) I’m not saying I understand God’s long term plans for my life by a long shot, but, for now, so long as the opportunities arise, I’m going to accept them with a quick prayer of thanksgiving and assume He knows what’s best.
So thanks to everyone who stopped me after my talk to tell me how much they enjoyed it. Your words meant more than you realize.