I gave a few talks this year, most of which left me dissatisfied. I think I delivered the ‘material’ okay and the audiences were receptive but each time I felt depleted and mildly embarrassed. I wrote about one of my experiences here.
This time was different, thanks to sage advice from Carsten.
It happened while I was planning my latest talk for MHSc students at the Joint Centre for Bioethics, and I was panicking. I realized that I was starting to forget my own story (as I usually told it) and wasn’t sure I could muster up enthusiasm for the same old stuff I usually talk about. And anyway maybe they wouldn’t want to hear it, or had heard it already… AND I was booked for almost 2 hours with this particular group. I thought cynically: if people want to hear my ‘greatest hits’ I will be reading from the teleprompter and hopelessly off-key.
I confronted Carsten with my anxiety, daring him to solve the problem.
He didn’t abide my insecurity for long. He reminded me that of course I know my own story, I just need to trust in its current shape. And instead of guessing what people want to hear, maybe I should just ask them.
Ask them? What an idea! I threw out my big speech and opted instead to give a brief lecture on perspectives, tell my story at a high level, then open up the floor for questions. I was prepared for the possibility of a very short conversation.
While I told the story of Owen’s life, I had my usual slideshow of family photos running in the background. The telling of the story took about 15 minutes, then I read 2 brief excerpts from my book. I hoped that the photos as well as the readings would inspire some curiosity. When I was done, I put up a slide of topics that people often ask me about: my family relationships, how Angus is doing, what do I think of certain current events, what do I regret, what advice do I have etc. Then I said, “Okay, what do you want to talk about?”
What a group! We had an in-depth conversation about everything from prenatal testing to disability to family life to my thoughts on so-called patient-centered care. We went right to the end of class and could have gone on. They were thoughtful and considerate but also direct and inquisitive. I was learning right along with them.
So, this is my new format. If you would like me to come speak to your group, prepare to Ask Me Anything.