Am I Becoming a Public Speaker

Posted: November 30, 2016 in psychology, real life, writing
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

As some of you may recall, I recently talked at a couple schools about writing. It started out innocently enough, just volunteering at my daughter’s school as part of their readathon and helping out a friend teaching Technical Writing for the first year. Then a teacher with whom I often share the zumba dance floor heard about it and asked if I would speak to her class too.

I agreed, of course, thinking talking to another high school class would be easy. Especially talking about horror writing versus technical writing. The middle school aged group had gone so well, been so engaged and fun, that I was willing to try again. Plus my editor always insists that any promotion or publicity is good. After all, I thought it was just one more class.

Oh, no. No no no.

At some point between the request and fulfilment, it became like a real thing. By the time we were finalizing details, I was slated to speak in an auditorium all seven periods of the day, talking to 29 classes totalling about 900 students.

Insert my utter panic.

I am not entirely sure why I was so intimidated. I definitely do not enjoy public speaking; I do not have any particular talent for it. It makes me nervous to stand up in front of a group but nothing close to anxiety. I got over it every time I had to stand up in front of soldiers to train them, even when I had no idea what I was talking about.

The auditorium, the size of the audience, and the multiple speeches surely upped the ante, but as scary as they could be, these were all good things.

So, like a true writer, I gooogled the word count I needed for a thirty minute speech, and I wrote the entire thing out. I showed up at the high school, my nerves vibrating under my skin, with my entire speech printed. I even wrote it in my speaking voice rather than my writing voice (because they are very different).

The teachers were overwhelmingly welcoming. They were genuinely excited to have me there and have me speaking, and that felt amazing. I began to tell myself I could do this; I was going to do this. Under my nerves, I knew the itching anxious feeling was normal, part of it that would pass.

It was intimidating up on that stage, under those lights. My husband mocked me beforehand, saying I could not possibly be jittered over talking to some high schoolers when I have belly danced in front of hundreds of people over the years. Speaking has always just been so different from dance, a different part of the brain and my emotions. Plus, I think I am better at dancing than public speaking (it would not be hard).

That first period was rough. I clung to my printed speech like my life depended on it. I awkwardly paced the stage like a sedated jungle cat. I lived for the cough drop keeping my ill throat lubricated.

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But I made it.

I kept my speech rather basic. I introduced myself, explained I was a horror writer there to talk about writing. I started with how I was inspired to write in elementary school and sort of chronologically walked through my writing career. At this point, I could see the gaping yawns and bobbling heads.

Then my speech took a hard turn. I pulled out my battle with depression, my failed suicide attempt, my bipolar diagnosis, How to Kill Yourself Slowly. Then I suddenly had their attention. I could almost gauge the shock when my narrative changed–sort of, did she really just say that? Is she really talking about that?

I cannot tell my writing journey without including those aspects. My writing, my work does not exist without my broken brain that produces it or my unsavory life experiences that have shaped it. It would feel inauthentic for me to leave it out and speak about my books sterilely.

So I poured out my black, little heart all over the auditorium stage, and I talked to these high schoolers the same as I would to anyone else (minus the normal slathering of curse words and a few punches pulled to stay in bounds on hot topics like suicide). To my mind, if I could decide to try to kill myself at 12, how could I talk to them like children who had never experienced anything? Age 17 was the most formative in my life, and that is right where they are right now. It had to be the raw honesty.

After that chunk, I continued on my little story of being published and being an author as a side job, all the basics of my books and what they involve. Then I opened it up for questions.

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Q&A is my favorite part. I enjoy the questions; I do far better with them than giving a speech. The interaction keeps me out of my own head. The kids were really fun to chat with. They asked me a range of questions, from the canned questions their teachers expected reports on to just random things like my favorite color or favorite Walking Dead character (Negan, currently). They asked about my family, my kids reading my horror writing, why I would write if it didn’t make money, all the things I might write in the future.

After many sessions, I had kids come up and talk to me one-on-one. Some wanted to talk about their writing or being sent to the counseling center for it (been there!). Some wanted to talk about their favorite book franchise. Some just wanted to talk.

I think I got better and better with each delivery of the speech. I at least became less dependant on my notes. Though it was just utterly exhausting. By the last two periods, I was giving my speech while sitting on the steps to the stage. Maybe not very professional but it is what I needed. I do not know how teachers do it.

Overall, I think it went really well. I ended up enjoying the experience completely. The teachers were awesome to work with. The kids were fun to interact with. It was surreal to walk the halls and have them whisper about who I was as I passed. The pseudo celebrity experience is still just strange for me. Mostly fun though.

I think I started to forget that getting published really means something. It has been two years, nearly exactly, since Savages was released. It took me months to come to happy terms with the fact that it actually happened, that the dream had come true. Yet in those two years, I have become complacent with my new reality, writing and promoting every day, comparing myself to every blindingly successful author. This experience reminded me that it is something, that it does matter. Even if just to me, it matters.

It is also awkward for me to consider myself now a public speaker, talking to kids about anything. Part of me wonders if I have anything worthy to say to an audience, the same part of me that wonders if I have any writing worth publishing. Yet I keep writing, so I will keep doing this as well, as long as I am invited.

I have already been invited back to this school, and ultimately, if my silly little talk inspires one kid to write or deal better with being depressed or anything, I will happily continue to do it for free. And if it helps me sell books, all the better.

 

Christina Bergling

christinabergling.com
facebook.com/chrstnabergling
@ChrstnaBergling
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SavagesCoverChristinaSavages

Two survivors search the ruins of America for the last strain of humanity. Marcus believes they are still human; Parker knows her own darkness. Until one discovery changes everything.

Available now on Amazon!
savagesnovella.com

TheWaning_CoverThe Waning

Beatrix woke up in a cage. Can she survive long enough to escape, or will he succeed at breaking her down into a possession?

Available now on Amazon!
thewaning.com

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