This last weekend wraps up a year of two challenges I set myself; one, starting a radio show, and two, giving a talk to a large group.
I've shared the first experience here but not the second because, well, there was not much to talk about.
Last year on vacation and in the midst of a merry dinner at the lake lodge, a topic I have become concerned and passionate about came up, as I saw it affecting this lovely spot. A couple who owned a vacation house there said I should give an after-dinner talk, which they had every Saturday through the summer in the lodge hall. The woman was on the “entertainment” committee and would book me for next year. Being full of wine and enthusiasm I agreed, to the shock of others at the table who knew me better (my wife being one). Dinner came to an end, and we shuffled off to the next room to sit down for that evening’s after-dinner event. As I watched the people set up front my heart froze with terror; I just agreed to be up there, alone, in a year. What was I thinking?
The year ran by quickly as I tried to forget about it, but a date had been set. Fortunately it worked out that we could come back for the talk and stay with friends, my whole family included and not just me. My wife at first didn't want to go and I knew full well why; she didn't want to be there to see me make an ass of myself.
The date came closer and closer, and I found my radio show debut a delightful distraction. Surely, after that talking to a roomful of people seemed like a walk in the park. Well, that’s what I told myself.
I didn't believe a word of it.
We went for our planned vacation there first, and I used the extra time I had from not knowing how to fish into creating the talk. I took photos, talked to others up there, and even showed someone around who was interested in what I had to say as they could not be at the talk. I poured over historical journals for the area so I could fill in some context to it all; planned out how I would state my case.
Then the talk signs started appearing; my name prominently displayed. It was going to happen.
We returned home, and I had the radio show debut. With that over, it was time to put all the talk pieces together. With a ten year old laptop my brother gave my mother to use (I didn’t have one, and didn't want to spend the time on trying to figure how to make my iPad work with a projector) I created a PowerPoint presentation. The laptop was horribly slow, and my evenings were more like performing an exorcism on the thing rather than creating a talk. But by Thursday I had soup. Friday after work we headed up, met my sister and her first words were “you’ve been practicing your talk over and over again, right?”. Well, um, “no” was my reply. No time.
The day of the talk I got up for breakfast. My lady-friend who kindly let us come back for this was also up, and looked hard at me. “I see this talk is bothering you, you are worried, and then your sister has to make things worse.” “Carl” she said, “get over yourself”. “What would happen if you don’t do well tonight?” “I would feel bad, I would be ashamed of myself.” She responded “get over your shame, it has no purpose here. You are a great, good-looking guy who can warm anyone’s heart, and you’ll be speaking about something you feel passionately. You’ll do fine, but in the end it doesn't matter how you do; what is important is that you are doing it, which puts you way ahead of any of us here.”
I spent the rest of the day thinking about what she said, and all the rest of encouragement I've received from those who knew about this (you know who you are). It all gave me a tremendous sense of calm as I approached the hour, and when a club member approached me at dinner, quietly telling me it was time for me to set up, I said “I’m ready!”.
I put all of myself into the talk; I did not try to be anybody else, did not try to hide. It was me, out there for all to see, and I only recently realized that it was OK if there were some who did not like it.
From what I heard, the talk went well. Not perfect, but well. My younger daughter gave it a 90 (“My teacher would not give you a 100 because you fidgeted too much.” she said matter of factly). Given that I've never given a talk in front of people, had no practice and shun attention like the plague, I am happy with the outcome. And maybe, just maybe, convinced my well-heeled, educated and successful audience that they do need to do something to keep their lake so beautiful.