To be honest, my experiences speaking were rather unpleasant the first several goes of it. I know I’ve said this recently, but it bears repeating.
I mean, I spoke. People didn’t throw tomatoes at me. I swore I would never talk in front of people again. Then I ruminated on the experience for a few weeks before another person asked me to speak and I foolishly agreed. I would try to rinse the incident from my memory. I foolishly repeated the cycle a bit longer than I care to recall.
Is this normal? Whatever normal means.
Is it though? Normal to continue to do something you don’t really believe you enjoy or are gaining something from doing? Can I earnestly say I didn’t enjoy it or wasn’t gaining something? I think that may be a question for another post.
At some point, I realized I was torturing unwitting participants. (haha unwitting iykyk)
It felt both triumphant and a bit unethical. Oh, the duality of man, err woman? Speakers.
Maybe I was really torturing myself. Maybe I felt it was a karmic penance that I needed to pay for something I had done in my past. The pain that was always whispering to my heart that I had earned it’s touch. I deserved sorrow. I deserved bad.
When I began presenting, I would put these horridly wordy (or were they wordily horrid?) slides together. Each slide was either filled with bar graphs or depressingly somber data points. I know, the abject horror. Then I went around and discussed numbers, which I also loathe. Maths ain’t my thing and yet I fell prey to it over and over.
Still, something felt unforgivable and I began personally researching better ways of presenting and speaking. I knew I wasn’t a paper speech reader, I knew I didn’t want to read off the slides. Honestly, I hated inputting data that just left everyone feeling depressed. Isn’t that a bit counterproductive in suicide prevention work anyway? Sometimes this field is more ironic than anyone seems to know or acknowledge.
I found a few random speeches and presenters who were engaging. They were themselves really, while also speaking to others. Then I knew I could do my own thing and step outside of that PowerPoint slide box. There was a female hacker who spoke at a Hacking event, Amber Baldet. She wore all black, black hair, creamy white skin, and tattoos. She was funny, frank, and honestly easy to listen to for the first time since I began trying to learn from others. On top of that, she shared what she liked and what she thought didn’t work or could be improved.
How dare she tell the truth!
I was enamored with her and the idea of just being me. But who was I as a speaker? If I took my identity and fractured it into a one-hour sliver of myself, what would that me look like to the world? I can’t say I knew how to answer that. I can’t say I know what that version of me is to this day.
It’s odd the things I grasp quickly, speaking in public seems a long, slow, and forgettably unforgettable journey. I still wonder why I keep going back for more some days. Why did I say that thing? Why do people keep asking me to talk in public? Isn’t there a better option, somewhere, anywhere?
But at the same time, there is this ability to be truly authentic for just a short while. To tap into deep emotions that are too often shoved into pant suits and snooze-inducing Zoom meetings. Emotions that we stifle and pretend don’t exist are allowed to be unleashed to their fullest. I love speaking because, in those moments when I haven’t prepared when I am truly unrehearsed, I am. I am me, for better or worse. I speak from my heart, and if others don’t like it, then they don’t understand what authenticity looks like for me. They don’t understand and that’s okay. I am okay. They weren’t meant to understand.
Their not understanding has less to do with me than anything. Oh, how I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that some of the feedback, the harsh words, and the gossip have nothing to do with your good intentions. We are all misunderstood by those who don’t want to hear or see us. Misunderstanding preserves our sense of self, our comfort, our fear of different.
As I reflect on my speaking and presenting journey I wonder, are these the types of questions we all ask? Is this one of the internal personae that shape improvement and eventually lead to concern about the content, audience, and hopefully ourselves? Do all speakers consider themselves and the needs of this work as much as I do?
Or am I among a few who grasp the importance of this work and that showing up doesn’t mean you are a professional speaker? Showing up isn’t even half the battle in these spaces.
Many people talk in public.
Some are presenters.
There are fewer professional speakers and even fewer who are skilled storytellers.
This journey isn’t about the event, it’s about the process of growth and improvement that takes place between them. Lots of people have had the honor of being on the agenda, but how many do we reflect back on? How many share something that stays with us after everyone has gone home? How many are truly remarkable?
If you want to be a memorable speaker, remember what is most important: don’t lose yourself to the hype, the reactions, or the empty recognition afforded to those who prefer the term expert over the action of building expertise. Bring yourself to the stage in the ways that honor who you are in your core and don’t forget to put the time and energy into the content along the way.
Speak fearlessly, my friends.
Fearless Speech by Michel Foucault: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/257781