I kinda panicked when I discovered that the room in which I was to give a keynote last weekend had only a gooseneck microphone attached to a podium.
Please, no! my mind squealed. I can't do the podium thing. I can't speak into a gooseneck. I need to move.
I'm really not cut out for public speaking. I was runner-up for shiest in my high school graduating class, right behind my good friend Sandy. I hide it pretty well now, but the truth is, not so far beneath the surface, I'm terrified of public speaking. Given the wrong conditions or the wrong crowd, my mind can freeze and when that happens, panic sets in, the shaking starts, and I become a quivering bundle of nerves.
You'd think a podium would help alleviate this. You'd think reading from notes would be a must. But the funny thing is, they just make it worse. They make everything worse.
If I can move, really move, then I'm okay. Or on the road to being okay. All those nerves have something to do. Someplace else to take me. It's why I can sing loud rock but literally choke singing ballads. Maybe I'm running away from my fears, trying to escape them long enough to forget how exposed I am. Maybe I'm running from the fact that I'm sharing stuff that's personal. Stuff that's painful.
I don't talk about things that don't matter to me. I also don't write about things that don't matter to me. Or for the money. To me, speaking in public or writing for publication is like taking a deep breath and a leap of faith off the high dive. I'm all in, and I'm trusting that there's water in the pool deep enough and wide enough to catch me.
The audience, they're my water.
I'm praying that they'll catch me, buoy me, save me from my dive.
A podium with a gooseneck mic is safe. There's a barrier between you and the audience. There's a place for notes and you can read from them, or use them as a crutch. You don't even actually have to know what you feel, what you think, or even what you're talking about. You just read.
Lots of speakers read. Or act out a part they play from their script. I understand why they do this. It's the safe, sane thing to do. And I have tried it, but every time it feels......fraudulent. Like I'm hiding. Like I'm not brave enough to take that big bounce and really dive in.
The conference tech did find me a hand-held mic. It was bashed in and old...but a beautiful sight. "Thank you!" I said, and then got on the stage. And for forty minutes I moved while I talked about things personal and formative and painful, and shared how they've managed to combine in me to create fertile beds for seeds of hope.
Afterwards, a friend said he'd seen lots of keynotes in his life, but never one like mine. He meant that in the best of ways, and I was grateful for the soothing effect his words had on my frayed nerves.
What I realized in that moment was that what I'm doing during a speech like that is trusting the audience. I trust them with my story, and in doing so, I trust them with my heart.
It's a very vulnerable position to put yourself in. Probably even foolish. But what I hope for, pray for, as I take that big bounce up into the air and spread my arms wide, is that the audience will catch me. That they'll understand that this is not easy or routine or pat. That I'm counting on them to hold me up, to see me through, and to take away the message I'm risking so much to convey.
And, ultimately, that's the reason I do this--the hope that the audience will take something useful away. Something that will make their life better. Something to give them hope, a new perspective, a reason to keep trying.
I realized today that this all also applies to my novels. I don't write from a formula. I don't stand behind a solid oak barricade of what's trending. I don't try to negotiate the shifting currents of critical review. I dive in with abandon, write from my heart, and trust that my readers will see beyond the flaws, understand the purpose, and take something useful away.
So please know that when you read one of my novels, I'm not just sharing words on a page.
I'm trusting you with the story.
I'm trusting you with my heart.