Part of being an author is speaking to groups of people about the themes of our work. I went to an extremely uplifting talk by my favorite author, Elizabeth Gilbert, about living creatively.
I was motivated to write the shit out of everything after that.
For me as an author, this means talking to groups of teenagers about facing their fears to pursue their goals.
While in Michigan in October 2015 I had the wonderful experience of speaking to Norway Middle and High School to about 200 students. Before that I had only spoken at small private schools where the student body was nowhere near that many.
This made me a bit sweaty, to say the least.
Many people asked me how I had the nerve to do it. How did I not just crumple on the floor and cry??
It’s because I grew up Mormon.
From the time I could talk, I was speaking in church. Mormons share their testimonies to the whole congregation once a month (not a requirement, but many choose to do so.) On top of that, The Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints is an organization run by it’s members.
The bishop isn’t paid. The clerks aren’t paid. The entire thing functions through volunteers and a passion for the word of God.
Which means the lessons taught to the congregation–the whole, huge, looking up at you from their pews with expectation in their eyes congregation–is taught by the members.
I remember being a tiny child and teaching the audience about Jesus and turtles. (The two were related, I promise) Then as I grew up my lessons grew up with me to the point I felt comfortable and confident speaking to the masses about whatever topic I was assigned.
Along the way I learned valuable lessons about public speaking.
Like the fact that NO ONE enjoys the lessons where the speaker is so confident about their abilities that they get up to the podium and “wing it.” As if they don’t need to write their lesson down because they are so confident in their abilities. I also learned that speakers who think they know more than the congregation are assholes.
I learned that humility and respect go along way when talking to a group.
I’m not a practicing Mormon anymore, but I sure am grateful for the things I learned as one growing up.
Now, while talking to teens about their goals, their fears, and their determination to overcome the obstacles in their path, I remember I don’t know what they’re going through and everyone has a unique life experience. I don’t know more than they do and I’d never assume that just because I’m on stage I have any business telling anyone what to do.
I also have to write everything down and read from my cue-cards because I’m not arrogant enough to think I could wing it and be coherent. I am not eloquent when I speak, generally. That’s why I’m a writer.
I may not be the best public speaker but I enjoy it and I have the nerve for it. I don’t need to crumple into a ball and cry at the thought of addressing the masses.
And that’s because Mormons are excellent public speakers.