Or: Why Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone is Worthwhile.
I never thought of myself as a speaker. Back in school I’d occasionally need to step up to the podium to deliver a speech or lead a meeting. I wasn’t terrified, precisely, but I also didn’t seek it out. There were so many people who obviously felt more comfortable in the lime light, and who had worthwhile things to share. People who were experts that no one could challenge.
Yes, I think the various types of insecurity go hand in hand.
I became very comfortable sitting at a keyboard where I could delete the words I’d just written and type new ones until I got them right. Where no one could ask me a question I didn’t know the answer to (as though it’s a crime to admit ignorance).
Eventually I began to gain confidence in my writing ability. Though not an ‘expert’–if there even is such a thing!–I was farther along the trail than some other people. There were things I could teach and I did so at my first writing home online Forward Motion for Writers. I taught on point-of-view basics, on description, on pulling readers into the story, and on voice. I think I did a pretty good job, but teaching online classes was still pretty safe.
As I got closer to my first contract, I began to notice what successful beginning authors were doing, both to promote their books and to give a helping hand: public speaking. But where? To whom? About what?
And most importantly, could I manage not to make a fool of myself?
I joined Toastmasters in the fall of 2011, determined to learn how to compose myself in front of a group and how to present information well. To my surprise, I loved it! I completed the first 5 speeches in my Competent Communicator handbook and soaked in what I could from the other club members, all the while looking at the May first release of Rainbow’s End.
I began to look at teaching workshops. I had, after all, prepared a bunch of them in my Forward Motion days and had learned quite a bit more about the process of writing in the years between. I’ve come to understand that there is no “one true way” to approach writing, but that the most random-seeming ideas can click with someone else and be very inspirational. No need to be an expert–being someone with experience is enough.
Angie Breidenbach approached me in spring about coming to Missoula, Montana, to teach a workshop to her local ACFW chapter at the library. We quickly agreed on two workshops instead of one, and I had the pleasure of driving to Missoula last weekend to teach.
1. Preparation. I outlined both the workshops well in advance, wrote out what I wanted to say, re-outlined for better flow, and timed myself while first reading the presentation and then trying to ad lib it from the outline.
Also, know what tools you have to work with. Can you use Powerpoint? Do you need tables? How much time has been allotted? Keep in touch with your host.
2. Flexiblity. For both classes, I made sure I had material that could be included if I either talked too quickly or if there were no questions, or that I could leave out if I ran out of time. (Each of these scenarios happened: two for two!)
3. Punctuality. Because it’s such a long drive (nearly 6 hours) I chose to do the driving the day before and stay with Angie overnight. We arrived at the library about 40 minutes in advance of the event which allowed time for set-up–and for me to realize it was a good thing I’d packed my 3’x4′ whiteboard along just in case. The chalkboard available just wasn’t going to cut it. Having the extra time also allowed me to slip away for a few minutes before the session to calm my nerves and pray.
4. Prayer. I asked God to bless my lessons–not to make me popular, but to help those in attendance to grow in their own skills as a result of being present–that they’d be glad they came. I asked Him to keep me focused and relaxed.
5. Portfolio. I’ve already accepted an invitation to teach From Beginning to End at the Inland Northwest Christian Writers Conference next March. I’m open to more engagements–seeking them, actually. So I was delighted when my friend Jessie Gunderson not only accompanied me on (much of) the road trip, but also offered to videograph my presentations using new equipment she’s just begun to experiment with.
I haven’t seen the resulting tapes yet, but I know having them will be a huge help. I can use bits for clips on the website and hold the longer ones for conference coordinators. If the videos prove I did a poor job and I don’t wish to share them, critiquing myself will also be a useful exercise!
Part of the fun was gathering the group around one table and sharing printed-out visuals too small to be seen from a distance. If the venue had a projector to use, I’d have done this via Powerpoint, but we might have lost some of the camaraderie of sharing these images at close quarters. This was at the end of the Mapping the Muse workshop.
The other workshop I did was GMC: Not Just a Truck. What fun to have someone come up to me afterward and tell me the concept made sense to her for the first time!
Would I do it all again? In a heartbeat. Let me know if I can come talk to your writers group!