I had known for years that I wanted to do public speaking, but I did not feel that I had any way to prepare for the actual experience. It is one thing to outline a talk, or pace around your office practicing that talk, but another thing altogether to stand in front of a group of strangers and deliver it. What seems like a good idea in your imagination is not always such a good idea in reality.
When the moment finally came I felt a bit as if I were being asked to walk a tightrope without a net. My opening joke, which had seemed so clever to me on the plane ride over, was met with puzzled silence. For the first ten minutes, I spoke as quickly as I could, believing that any pause would be read as symptomatic of an unprepared performer. But I soldiered on, and got a few laughs, and slowed down, and the crowd and I gradually warmed to one another.
Midway through the talk I made a point with a quick anecdote, just as I had practiced it in my office. It seemed insufficient to me, and so I decided to tell a story to further emphasize the point. I chose one of many stories I had catalogued in my memory. As I began telling this story, telling it more or less as I had told it to my friends and family, to my wife and coworkers, I realized I had been mistaken about my lack of preparation. This talk was nothing but a series of stories, and I had been telling stories since I’d learned to talk, editing them, improving them, learning from them. Stories were how I communicated with the world. I had actually been preparing for this moment my entire life.
I was reminded of a strange sound Sawyer used to make. For a time, when he was pretending, Sawyer would run back and forth, humming, thumping his chest, and, periodically, crying out, “Ack!” Whenever I heard it, I’d flinch. I hated that sound. I hated it because it wasn’t a word, and because it made no sense to me, like so much of what he did. It was an abnormal sound, a sound out of place in the world, just like him.
Then we bought some stop motion animation software that allowed one to animate figures using only a web cam. Sawyer wanted to animate his Transformer trucks. He was meticulous about it. We spent two hours bringing them to life in a battle of Good Truck versus Evil Truck. Once we had our footage, I suggested we edit it. “Can we add sound effects?” Sawyer asked. Of course we could.
We downloaded some sounds of engines roaring and grinding metal and tires screeching. Sawyer told me exactly where the sounds belonged and exactly how loud they needed to be. “This came out great,” I said. “We’re not done,” he said. “I need to add the voice.” These weren’t normal trucks, after all. These were Transformers, trucks that could walk and talk. So I grabbed a microphone, plugged it in, pressed record, and Sawyer leaned into it and belted, “Ack!”
It was the perfect sound for a talking truck colliding with another talking truck. It was as perfect as the screeching tires and grinding metal. It belonged in that movie the way my stories belonged in my lectures. Once we were finished, Sawyer hopped down from his chair, ran outside, and commenced pretending. Sitting by the computer in the kitchen I heard him cry, “Ack!” again, and I did not flinch at all.
I am the author of Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence, and Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. Learn more here.