Have you ever signed up to learn something—and a day before you’re about to start the class you realize what a totally insane idea it was?
Yeah? My stroke of genius was the day I signed up for the public speaking workshop. I am super awkward on stage, in front of a crowd, or in a video. I get a knot in my belly, sweat all over, and usually laugh inappropriately.
But for some reason that I wasn’t quite sure of, I decided to take a two-and-a-half day workshop on public speaking. I think I was pumped up by the excitement I felt at the writer’s conference in July. Back on that day I looked in on a talk given by an ex-news reporter turned professional media consultant. Elli did this great presentation about how to handle an interview about your book. I loved her energy, her blue eyes, and the pocket phrases she gave us to use when answering hard questions about our stories.
Of course I felt intimidated, considering my gigantic fear of public speaking. But during that panel discussion we were invited to name our fear—mine was Wiz—and I began to own it. Afterwards my burst of adventure to learn more about overcoming panic stayed with me. I went up to Elli and gave her my card, vowing to take her workshop later in the year.
I’m a competitive tennis player, so why not face my fear head on? The day before the class I finally decide to get prepared. I start with reading all the emails that have been sent to me over the past few months. There’s the email congratulating me on taking the course, the one about how much fun we’re going to have, and finally the schedule for the next few days.
In that last email there’s the mention of the word “spotlight.” I dig a little deeper, curious about what this means exactly. All of sudden I realize I’m expected to be presenting a 30-minute talk about my book’s message. Holy shit!
That fear knot in my belly reappears and now it’s triple the size. I decide to call the one person who can help me quickly put together a speech—my writing coach. On a side note, if you don’t have one these people I highly recommend it. Email me and I’ll give you his name.
My coach seems excited, but then again he’s been a theatrical actor. He tries to calm my massive knot, but nothing’s making that thing go away. We form a plan. He reminds me of a recent conversation, the one I had with a spokeswoman from Everytown for gun safety. “Didn’t she suggest you speak at the next legislative session?”
Yes she did. I decide this will be my spotlight. I will prepare a speech about gun safety and practice on the people in this workshop. It takes several hours. I know it doesn’t have to be perfect because that’s what Elli does—fine-tunes your message.
But still I don’t want to come across as unable to express myself. I am supposed to be a writer. So I write and rewrite well into the night. Randy makes dinner, brings me a plate, and sets it down on the desk in our home office. Afterwards I ask him if I can read my speech before I’ll share it with the group in the morning. He’s so sweet. He listens intently, gives only one change to the language, and then adds an extra boost of confidence to push away my doubt.
Finally, the big day arrives. Elli is all smiles, even wearing an ice cream bar skirt to loosen us up. Maybe ice bars would’ve been better than a skirt with them, but she knows how nervous I am. She picks on me, asking questions I don’t remember. Yes, I did get up in front of the class, and I did see a few black spots of dizziness. But luckily I was able to talk while I sat in front of my computer, and so I could control my shaking legs.
Bolstered by my writing, I didn’t feel completely broken. I was able speak slowly, take a breath, and look into everyone’s eyes. And as I told my story of loss and gun safety I noticed a few tears. I also saw one of the ladies in the class grab a kleenex.
After I finished everyone stood up and clapped. Of course, this was part of the support we all shared when someone was in the spotlight. I was then given the chance to ask questions. I needed to know if my story was compelling, and did my message need to be heard? How uncomfortable did it make you feel?
Elli said, “Leesa, of course you made us feel uncomfortable, but we need to feel that way. It’s your purpose. You want people to know what happened to you so they can prevent it from happening to their children.”
She was right. I love other moms’ children as much as I love my son. I didn’t write my book because it was something I was supposed to do. I wrote it because it was something I was called to do.
I love this line in an opinion piece I read by Michel Martin. “What might happen if, instead of demanding comfort for ourselves when we face our biggest problems, we accepted the discomfort as the price of living in a dynamic but complex world. What would that look like?”
My reason I took the class, and felt my awkward moments in the spotlight and that discomfort? I want things to change about gun safety. Discomfort gets the talk started that can change things for the better.