Monday, October 26, 2009

Following Up On "The Katy Challenge"

Remember how I said I wanted to use this upcoming series of Katy school visits to embrace public speaking? Yeah well, remind me you need to be careful what you wish for. :-) My first presentation right out of the box was speaking to a group of 300 school kids—one of my biggest crowds ever.

But here’s the thing: It was a piece of cake! Much to my surprise, I was totally and completely comfortable. I looked everyone in the eye and didn’t need to use my notes once. I was also able to crack jokes and add spontaneous bits.

This was especially good news since the weekend before I felt like I kind of stumbled at an adult event. I was only speaking in front of a group of about 40 adults, and for only two minutes, but when I got up there I found I was hyperventilating and ended up cutting my talk short (no mean feat when it was only two minutes to start with!) So apparently the take away lesson here is that I am fine in front of a group of 300 kids, but forty adults can be problematic. Not ALL adult groups though, because I was able to speak comfortably in front of the crowd at the Dallas art museum.

I think part of it has to do with why I’m there; I do better with a firm sense of purpose. I need a focus. But I also think it gets back to the fact that we all have comfort zones. For me, those are speaking in front of kids or teaching something. I’m also pretty comfortable on panels, and have been right from the start.

That doesn’t mean I am giving up on improving my adult game. I think a big piece of that depends on the nature of the gig. It will also be helped by expanding what my concept of “entertain” means. No, I’m not hilarious, or not intentionally so anyway. But from speaking to so many kids I’m also learning there are other ways to entertain: I can inspire, validate, inform, share secrets. It’s about using my strongest skill set first—writing a compelling speech—then finding a way to get comfortable delivering it verbally.

Practice is key. Not just knowing the material inside and out, but practicing pauses and questions, inflections and gestures, even practicing the spontaneous bits, just to see how to break into and out of them.

So Operation Public Speaking Jedi Master is almost accomplished. I’m going to use what I’ve learned from this week’s success as a launching board for conquering the next set of public speaking goals.

It’s kind of funny. The other day someone was saying how they were so fascinated by how I could write the intrepid, adventurous Theo AND the timid, cautious Nathaniel Fludd. The truth of the matter is, I am both of those people. At heart, I am a most decided weenie. Even so, when responsibility calls and I do finally step up to the plate, I enjoy the adventure and challenge of it all. There are simply too many great things out there that I would miss out on if I didn’t push myself. So instead of holing up at home for the rest of my life, I have to look for ways to embrace my inner Theo.

9 comments:

Mary Hershey said...

Howdy, Ma'am--

So happy to hear from you! Such interesting observations and realizations that you've shared here. Keeps us humble, for sure, doesn't it? Not knowing whether we'll bring the house down, choke on a flea, or somewhere in between!

I am very impressed that you can still string a sentence together, as you've done so nimbly here.

Come home soon, please. CPK has a APB out on us.

Your lonely sidekick,

Mary

Katy Cooper said...

"I can inspire, validate, inform, share secrets."

Yes, you can. You've done all four in my personal experience, and done them all well.

And yay! for facing your fears! You're my hero (in so many ways...)

beckylevine.wordpress.com said...

I'm facing (not too happily) developing a new presentation for next year. I was thinking about trying to do it backward (how's that for a clue about why it doesn't sound so fun) by starting with the powerpoint slides, but I'm thinking maybe I should go with how it's worked for me before--writing out the talk first. That just sounds a lot happier, even when I write it here!

Solvang Sherrie said...

I think kids are much easier to speak to than adults. I guess that's part of why I write for them :)

Irene Latham said...

I appreciate this update so much, esp. as I continue to conquer my own public speaking stuff. I spoke to a group of about 80 girls a couple of days ago and had this moment about 2 minutes into my speech where I got all shaky. Like I got of to a good start, THEN, suddenly, had a rush of self-consciousness. And it was hard to get through those moments. But, like you, having a plan helps. I just had to refocus and it turned out okay.
My husband said he read somewhere that one trick is not to imagine the audience naked (as we are advised) but to actually practice your speeches naked in front of a mirror! Because you are so vulnerable naked... and if you can pull THAT off, when you are actually in front of a crowd, clothed, you'll feel more confident. Just might give that a try. :)

Anonymous said...

The best advice I've ever heard about handling anxious situations is this:

Breathe.
:-)

writerjenn

Christina Farley said...

Thanks for sharing about your experience.

Chester said...

Bravo Robin,
I'm confident you're wowing them, whether you feel like it or not.
Mazeltov,
Charlie

R.L. LaFevers said...

Miz Mary, you name the day and time and I will meet you at CPK!! So glad to be home!

Katy, you are very kind, dear. So glad anything I say or do helps you, as you are one of the wisest people I know.

Becky, I think writing out what you want to say, then fiddling with the PP slides, then adding them together and fine-tuning seemed to work best for me. Good luck on your upcoming presentations next year!

Sherrie, LOL! Uh yeah. Guess it makes sense that if I prefer writing for kids, I'd prefer speaking to them, too. Duh. :-)

Irene, so glad you found this helpful. I was talking with Mary and wishing there were some way I could let people see how I wasn't just 'not good' about public speaking, but nearly crippled by an inability to do it. It was truly painful, for both me and the audience. I can't help but feel if someone who was as paralyzed as I once was can come to terms with the demands of public speaking, anyone can!

Jenn--sometimes breathing is easier said than done! (See my above comment to Irene.) For some of us, our lungs constrict of their own accord and we simply can't breathe. Hideous.

My pleasure, Christina.

And thank you Charlie! Very good to see you here!