Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Sharing My Story

I was shy as a child but somewhere along the way I lost that quality. It's a good thing, too because it has allowed me to discover a talent that has helped me in many ways. While most people are terrified of public speaking, I really enjoy it. 

I don't know at what point I began feeling like I had something worthwhile to say, but once I did, I had no problem sharing it publicly. I remember being interviewed on camera when I was in middle school and not feeling nervous. In high school I did presentations to donors of the scholarship that allowed me to attend my private school. I don't recall being nervous sharing my gratitude about the opportunity the scholarship provided, or how I planned to make the most of my education. In college I traveled throughout Iowa speaking alongside Dr. Jischke, the university president at the time. It was pretty cool getting to know him while flying from city to city in the school's private plane. Sometimes we spoke at small intimate dinners, other times it was an auditorium full of people. 

Every career I've pursued has included public speaking in various forms, from presentations to training others, to managing media as the company spokesperson. Along the way I'm often asked how I can get up in front of strangers and speak as though it's a room full of friends. The truth is, I don't know how I do it. All I know is that I rarely get nervous, and don't think about it as a room full of strangers. I think of it as oral story telling, which I love. I've been pretty lucky that I've gotten to speak about topics I have researched and am very familiar with, or something I am passionate about.

Two weeks ago I had the honor of being the keynote speaker at a local insurance company. The audience consisted of about 65 or so middle school girls and their mentors, made up of women from the company, including some high-level VPs. 

Sharing my story
The girls were excited to be there, and I was delighted to share my story with them. They wanted to know my path to writing a novel, and asked great questions about the process of writing. I had forty-five minutes for the presentation and answering questions. Their questions were so good, I could have stayed an extra ten minutes to answer them all, but we ran out of time so I left business cards and invited them to contact me. I really hope they do.

When I was done, I got a lovely thank you email telling me that, "[t]here was positive feedback from the students, and the staff were mesmerized." I was all smiles at the word "mesmerized." Not only do I appreciated a strong adjective, but knowing that my story resonated with the crowd is encouraging. I worked hard to make it as age appropriate as possible, knowing the audience would be mostly young girls my daughter's age. I spent time on the Internet looking for images and downloading photos so that they'd have some visual aids as I went along. The night before I rehearsed in front of my daughter and got her feedback, plus I practiced some more in front of the mirror and in the car on my way there. I wanted it to be comfortable - like a dialogue. My goal was that the girls would feel like they were hearing from someone who cared, because I do. They are not only an age I enjoy, they are my future readers. 

So relieved that no one fell asleep!
I shared the challenges and fears I have that they won't want to read my work, or that I would insult their intelligence and capabilities by not writing to their level. They shared their favorite Harry Potter characters with me and took notes as I spoke. It was a lot of fun, and I loved doing it. It made me think that I'd love to one day make a career of speaking, along with writing. So if you're ever in the market for a keynote speaker... ;-)

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