This past Saturday morning I spoke at a meeting of our local chapter of the American Association of University Women (AAUW). And as usual, after all my stressing about it and worry that I would totally mess up, my talk went very well. I was “on stage” for forty-five minutes speaking about my writing background, local organizations that provide mental illness and suicide prevention help, how I used writing to get me through the grief of losing a son to suicide, and how I created my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On from my journals, poetry manuscript, and writing workshop pieces. I also read two prose pieces and two poems from the book. I never thought I could hold forth for so long. In fact, when the program chairperson called to set up my presentation we decided to give the group a writing exercise if I didn’t have enough to say in the time I was allotted.
Although I had my cheat sheets in front of me and just needed to glance down on them from time to time to make sure I was keeping my place, I really talked off the cuff the entire time. Even at the outset when someone asked about Sandy Banks’ article about a suicide in the Los Angeles Times that morning, and the mother’s feeling of guilt afterward, I was ready. I had read the article and had cut it out to bring along. I commented on the article and how the subject related to me, and I passed the article around the room.
I ended up with many kudos from the powers that be in the AAUW group. One even said it was the most moving presentation they’ve ever had. What a great compliment. They also asked me to join the group.
So all the stressing was worth it. But I do need to look into why I go through this every time I need to speak in front of a group. It’s not that I’m new to public speaking. I spoke and taught classes many times while I worked full time, and even now I’ve presented many times about my book. And I was very prepared. I wrote out a script, I knew which prose parts and poems from the book I would read, and I brought along several things for show and tell. Even if I hadn’t remembered any of the points I wanted to make, I could have read the whole thing.
What I keep forgetting is that I’m an expert on my topic. I could talk for hours about it. After all I wrote a whole book about it.
By the way, we still went ahead with the writing exercise – it just cut our questions and answers time a little short. And, I was delighted that this group of women so readily participated and were so willing to share their writing with the group. Our topic was “your most devastating school experience.” Most of the women wrote about something that happened to them in Kindergarten. And since this was a group of senior women, the experience must have been very devastating if they still remembered it.
What would you write on that topic?