Stepping up to the podium felt like jumping into a chilly swimming pool. “Here goes nothing,” I thought.
I was pretty good at public speaking in high school. But I hadn’t done any since then. Now seventy-two people expected me to entertain them. I was scared spitless. (Cleaned that one up nicely, didn’t I? Besides, it’s accurate—dry mouth, ugh.)
A woman I met in aerobics class, Jan Abbott, is president of The Guild of Mercy Hospital Anderson. Jan was planning the Guild’s fall luncheon, and she’d read and enjoyed Incomplete Passes. She asked if I would speak at the affair, to be held at Cincinnati’s Hyde Park Country Club. “If I can’t do this,” I reasoned, “I don’t have any business trying to market a book.”
But as the date neared, I became increasingly nervous. When I vented to my friends, they offered two pieces of advice: “Start with a joke,” and “Be yourself.” Could I put the two together? Jan has said she especially enjoys my self-deprecating humor. (I love hanging with people who use words like “self-deprecating.”) So I tried it in my speech.
“I was really nervous about coming here today,” I began. “All my friends gave me the same advice: Be yourself. What? I don’t want to be myself. I want to be … J.K. Rowling!”
Aha, some laughs. I may get through this after all.
I’d grade myself B- or C+ on the speech. A passing grade, anyway. I had some trouble with the microphone. When I came in, it was on a stand on the lectern. But the speakers who preceded me held it in their hands. I didn’t want to take time to replace and adjust it, but I had trouble organizing my notes and bookmarked pages one-handed. That impeded the flow of my speech. Next time (if there is one), I’ll make the audience wait until I get the mic right. I’ll also make sure there is water within reach.
When I called for questions, I was surprised that people asked whether I knew Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr, rather than about the life of an author. I tried to keep my talk upbeat and funny, but now I wish I’d spoken less about my book and more about growing old with my friends and how precious is the time we spend together. My audience would have identified with that.
I guess I didn’t totally stink. I sold nine books, although eight purchases came before the talk and only one afterwards. But the organizers of the event talked about including Incomplete Passes in a gift basket they’re putting together. And they offered me a vendor booth at their October fundraiser.
Before the event, I hadn’t thought much about hospital guilds and what they do. I Googled this one and found a picture of my friend Jan presenting a check for $117,000 to a hospital spokesman, for the purchase of new equipment. I’ve been treated at that hospital, and I took their services for granted. I hadn’t considered who runs the gift shop or who holds fundraisers to improve the facility. These people do good work, hard work. It seemed appropriate to donate a portion of the money I’d made back to the Guild, and so I wrote Jan a modest check.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak to the Guild, and I hope more invitations will follow. This was a learning experience, and on balance, an enjoyable one. The adventure continues …