Thursday, September 05, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday-Public Speaking

I've added a new line to my business card—speaker. Much to my surprise, I have discovered that I love standing in front of a room full of people and talking about myself and my work. There was a time in my life when I would have said that was impossible. Last month, I spoke during the Sunday service at Wesley Methodist Church in Lincoln, RI and was one of the presenters at Pecha Kucha Night in Kennebunkport, Maine. It seems like a good time to reflect back on how I got here.

I first learned how to be comfortable in front of large groups of people when I taught bookmaking—40 to 50 different schools a year, 25 to 50 new faces every 45 minutes. The teaching was always about something other than myself—to get each child to make a completed blank book in the allotted time. My task was to give directions in the clearest, most unambiguous way and to keep the students's attention which meant never using notes so that I could always have eye contact. My most repeated words were, "Nothing in your hands, eyes looking at me."

While the teaching became routine, I was still nervous when I had to speak about my own art. A change occurred during the gallery talk at my exhibition of the Spirit Books at Regis College in 2005. I always felt that I was missing something because I had not gone to art school, that there was some secret I would have learned about how to talk profoundly about my work. With no other real alternative, I decided that the best I could do was speak matter-of-factly about what I was thinking when I made the Spirit Books. About half way through the talk, I looked around the gallery and realized that people seemed to really care what I was saying. It was the most warm and wonderful feeling.

The next step came when I gave an illustrated talk at the Exeter (NH) Center for Creative Arts in 2010. I did not have the comfort of the physical presence of my work but basing what I had to say on images on a screen actually made it easier. I traced my history as an artist and shared work that was successful as well as work that wasn't. I tried to be as open and as honest as I could and people seemed to like hearing about my doubts and insecurities as well as my accomplishments.

I did my first Pecha Kucha Night in Portsmouth, NH in 2011. Started by architects in Japan, Pecha Kucha (Japanese for chit chat) Nights are a series of presentations on a variety of subjects. The catch is that each presenter shows 20 images and has exactly 20 seconds to talk about each. I gathered my images, placed them in powerpoint, created a timed slideshow, and practiced, practiced, practiced.

Now, in 2013, I want to make speaking more a part of my life. I have practical and personal reasons. Practically, I have a book to promote—Art Lessons: Reflections From An Artist's Life, and more to come. As print-on-demand self-published books, they do not fit in bookstores or on amazon so I need to create my own opportunities for selling. Personally, I want to have work that takes me out of the studio. Because my teaching was so much about the relationship between me and a room full of people, rather than the more intimate kind one has when teaching a small group, the speaking is the closest to what I know.

While it is wonderful to feel a connection to others through my words, the joy is not just about the time I spend in front of an audience. It is as much about the time I spend preparing. I may jot down a few notes but I never write anything I am going to say. I think that reading and speaking are two very different things and that speaking works best if it evolves without the written word. I take great satisfaction in honing the words and then committing them sufficiently to memory, but not memorizing. Needless to say, this involves lots of repetition and lots of time. As Rilke says, "To be an artist means not to compute or count."

Should you be looking for a speaker for your institution or organization or know of someone who might be, please be in touch.

Here is my Pecha Kucha Night Kennebunk presentation in two parts. You'll hear the ding of a bell at the beginning which is what the presenter hits to say, start the slides.

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