I gave a DEAC talk,"We Can all Sing," at the Wake Forest University "Aging Re-Imagined" Symposium Friday and learned a few new things about public speaking in the process.
Writing vs. Speaking
I wrote a condensation of my talk when I applied to give the talk. After I learned that I'd been accepted, I kept writing. And writing. But stopped about 2 weeks before my talk because I realized that, when I practiced, I was trying to remember those lovely phrases I'd used in my writing. They were too formal, not the conversational style I wanted. I also realized that if I kept forgetting one point or another, then some part of me was telling me to leave it out.
When we write we have to choose words that convey our meaning without our physical presence, our body language and tone of voice. And then there are all those grammar rules that have become second nature when we write, but exist only to help the reader and sound stilted when we use them in conversation. Or when we write dialog, for that matter.
When I coach singer/songwriters, we discuss "patter" at some point—the talking between songs that is often part of that type of performance. We talk about how much and what they want to reveal about their personal lives, and how much and what their audiences want to know.
My writing critique group kept telling me I had to include myself and my achievements during the talk. My army son told me that he often hears that after one of his presentations has gone well—"Why didn't you say anything about your expertise, your background?" I tried, up until midnight the night before my talk. I practiced inserting an anecdote about myself here, or another there. Even one about my adopted grandchildren. Nothing worked. So, again, I realized that references to myself was not the direction I wanted to go at all. That's not who I am.
It's taken me a couple of days to recognize that my personal style of speaking involves a lot of facial expression, a lot of body movement, and that's what conveys who I am. During the talk itself, I felt my hips wriggle when I described the metamorphosis of a singer. Heard myself saying, "Phish," with a wave of my hand when I dismissed a common assumption about singing. I teared up during my last anecdote. I'd never practiced any of this. They were a complete surprise. Which leads me to
Going with the Flow
For a couple of days after the talk, I worried that I couldn't remember much of what I'd said (and of course I no longer had a written record of what I intended to say). My army son says the same thing happens to him after a good presentation. I've studied and taught Flow for decades, but I've never considered that not remembering the details of a Flow experience may be one of its characteristics. The overall experience, yes, but only a few moments here and there.
My central theme was the creative spirit, a subject that I'm passionate about. I had decided against speculating that perhaps the creative spirit could be called the soul. Not for that audience, I thought. Yet I heard it come out of my mouth, and felt no pushback in response. I hadn't expected laughter, but heard it often from the audience. Even heard a compassionate groan at one point. Meredith Holladay told me afterwards that she cried twice during my talk. None of these affects had been intentional on my part.
One statement I made that I do remember is that I believe the creative spirit is secondary only to the drive to survive. Intentions, of which I had many, are mental concepts. The creative spirit, however, uses all of us—body, emotions, and mind. When we allow the creative spirit to take over, to override our intentions, as I evidently did at many points during the process, then we're in Flow.