Four Fears: Public Speaking, part II
In Which My Career as a Writer Takes Off, and I Learn I Am Dying
NOTE: This post is continued from yesterday's "Four Fears: Public Speaking, part I." To read that post first, click here.
My first novel, Nicoji, was accepted for publication in 1990, the same year I learned I had AIDS. I was told that perhaps I had a year to live. But that year came and went. I was told I had six months, but those months came and went. There were things I wanted to do, like conquer my fears: I began to think that maybe I still had time.
By 1991, I was publishing stories in national and international magazines, I had won first place in the Writers of the Future Contest, and my first book was out. It had become necessary for me to speak at local and national science fiction conventions, and, eventually, at world science fiction conventions. Here are things I learned that helped me speak in public:
- The message is more important than the messenger. That is the lesson I eventually took away from my experience of being laughed at because of my accent. I changed the way I spoke, in the hopes that people would then hear what I had to say and not be distracted by how I was saying it—I set aside my accent so I could go straight to saving the world.
- The message was critical—if it was something I cared about deeply, you almost couldn't stop me from talking about it.
- Nervousness doesn't matter. Audiences forgive a nervous speaker. I found that if I started my talk by admitting that I was nervous, audiences would root for me. Plus, acknowledging my fear calmed me down.
- I dressed up to talk: maybe not a tie every time, but a blazer. I pressed my shirt, polished my shoes. For me, doing that showed the respect I felt both for my topic and for my audience. It became a calming ritual for me: getting ready, showing respect.
Naturally, there were times when none of that was possible—my luggage was delayed, for example, so I had to wear what I had on. Or I was asked to speak extemporaneously: in those cases, I found that turning to questions from the audience was the thing to do, and the hour would pass quickly.
I have spoken on the craft of writing, on environmental topics (especially about saving unprotected wild lands in Utah); about Mary Leakey's last lecture, which I was fortunate to attend in Nairobi (and which I will devote an entire post to); about the lost civilizations of the Anasazi and the Fremont, and the important lessons they teach the world; about climbing Kilimanjaro and about hiking through Haleakala Volcano. These and other topics are so important to me, and so interesting to me, that I wanted to speak about them, and, eventually, I enjoyed doing it.
I will not die afraid of public speaking.
Walk the Moon, "Shut Up and Dance"
Walk the Moon is an American rock band formed in 2006. I thought their song "Shut Up
and Dance" was appropriate after all this talk about talking. The song is from their 2014 album
Talking Is Hard:
I created "The Place of Souls that I Desire," the image above, in 2006. It is based on Mandelbrot Fractals. The title is from part II of Algernon Charles Swinburne's poem "In the Bay":
Above the soft sweep of the breathless bay
Southwestward, far past flight of night and day,
Lower than the sunken sunset sinks, and higher
Than dawn can freak the front of heaven with fire,
My thought with eyes and wings made wide makes way
To find the place of souls that I desire.