May 6, 2011

On Public Speaking

I got asked to speak at a church.

Or maybe, the program director at Campamento del Caribe got asked to speak at a church.

Or maybe, the guy who was sitting in that desk at that time got asked to speak at a church.

Either way, I was the guy sitting in the desk, the program director at Campamento del Caribe, the one in the right place at the right time.

Pastor Michael told Theresa he needed someone to speak for the National Day of Prayer yesterday. And since I was right there, he asked if I'd want to do it.

"Like, speak? For how long? About what?"

"About Prayer, dummy." (He didn't call me a dummy. But I probably should have guessed the topic.) "About 30 minutes. With someone translating, you'd need to speak for about 15 minutes."

"I... I guess so." I tried to stammer, to sound non-committal and give him time to give me a chance to back out. I'm not a pastor. I don't really speak, like a public speaker or a motivational speaker or a pastor or something. Only to crowds of 8 year olds in chapel at summer camp, and they're decidedly easier to impress than grown-ups.

He didn't give me the way out I wanted and when our conversation was over, I had pretty much committed to speaking to a crowd of grown-ups at a church service.

This is not the kind of thing most people go out of their way to do. Many people are genuinely terrified at the thought of it. And indeed, there were flashes of terror.

I would be lying in bed, in that beautiful moment between waking up and deciding to get up, when everything and nothing is fantasy and serious all at the same time, and I would think, "What do I have to do?" and the reminder would come, usually sounding something like this:


Does that sound panicky enough? Because it was panicky. And it happened pretty much every morning between when I committed to speak and when I finally spoke. It didn't last, though, and I'd eventually snap out of it. No sense in being terrified. You've got time. Man up. Get out of bed.

Some people have brains that can stay on topic, that can just pull a bunch of stories by category and fit them together neatly with a nugget of wisdom, and they make great public speakers. My brain doesn't do that. I don't know if it can learn to do that. It was my acceptance of this that led me to say: If I'm gonna speak, I need to write it all out. My mind wanders too much. In fact, at any given point in time, I am probably not paying any attention to anything. I think I have a screen saver or something that lets me think about nothing. So I had to think about it all ahead of time.

And so I thought. No, I didn't go to Bible school. No, I don't give sermons. No, I don't feel qualified for this. But I do have a set of experiences, which at least gives me something to say about prayer. So I wrote it all out, word-for-word. 2200 words worth, from "Buenas Noches, everyone" to the well-worded final sentence that adequately summed up my point and sounded very much like an ending. Starts and endings are hard. It's the middle stuff that's easy.

Of course, I wrote it all a few days ahead of time, so I had plenty of time to second-guess it. Is this me? Or is it God? Is this deep enough? Is this what they want? If I'm worried about being embarrassed or failing, does that mean I have a problem with vanity and that I'm not letting the Holy Spirit speak? In the end I decided that, unless God gives me something else, what I put on the paper must have been from Him already. I told Him that he could change it if he wanted to.

Last night, I spoke it. Spake it. Unto them. I even ad-libbed a joke at the start. The one about speaking to 8 year-olds. Yeah, already re-used it on you. It was that good.

Once you begin, you wonder what all the terror for public speaking is about. Forgetting your lines? Not having enough to say? If you have a piece of paper and can read it without sounding like you're reading it (I'm not saying I did) then you should be fine. Of course, that doesn't shake the curiosity of whether or not everyone in the audience is scrutinizing your every word, harumphing at your foibles (am I nose-breathing into the microphone?) and breaking down each element of logic in your argument (that didn't sound heretical, did it?). I understand on a much deeper level now why Pastors ask for amens. It pumps them up and affirms them. It shows that they're not just standing up there alone, appealing to a bunch of skeptics or, even worse, a bunch of bored church-goers. Don't be afraid to give the guy speaking an amen.

I have no idea how long I spoke for. Something like 30 minutes. Before I started planning it out, I wondered how I was going to occupy a half hour with what little wisdom I had. But it evaporates quickly with all of those eyes on you. When I was finished, people told me it was good. The pastor gave me a thumbs up. I felt relieved.

I'm glad I did it. I could have said no, could have backed out or deferred to someone else, but I didn't. Next Sunday, I'm visiting a church in Guaynabo where I have "1-2 minutes" to speak about camp. No problem for this guy.

1 comment:

ACB said...

Hey, glad it went well! The problem with public speaking in a religious setting is that the standard advice of imagining everyone in their underwear is pretty much against the law.
Glad you enjoyed it though!