A few months ago, I was asked to give a 10-minute TED-style talk at the College Music Society Summit on improving 21st century music school design.
I gave the talk last Friday, and I believe it was a success. However, the process leading up to it was extremely challenging for me, and I learned quite a lot from it.
It’s always a good idea to focus more on the positives than the negatives, so I’ll start with recognizing how very far I’ve come over my lifetime in the realm of speaking in public.
As a child, I was extremely shy about speaking to others. Speaking to an audience from the stage was terrifying, as were giving radio or newspaper interviews. I dreaded any event that could expose me in public through the spoken word, even though I had no anxiety when playing the violin for others.
Knowing that this was a serious deficiency for someone aspiring to be an international soloist, I took a speech class in college. Unfortunately, I had such a terrible experience during the second class (I began to recite the required memorized poem and drew a blank after only a few words) that I dropped the class and never went back!
It wasn’t until I had completed a 3-year training to become certified as an Alexander Technique teacher, and I started giving introductory workshops to musicians, that I realized my fear of speaking in public had largely disappeared. Suddenly, I discovered that I loved talking about the Alexander Technique – even to large audiences!
It has been over 8 years now since I gave my first introductory workshop. I now thrive on teaching group classes and giving workshops. In fact, one of the best experiences of my life was teaching groups of up to 40 students at a time in Japan, with a translator.
So, when I was invited to give a 10-minute talk on wellness for musicians at the CMS Summit, I was delighted and accepted without hesitation. I thought it would be easy.
Little did I know how difficult it would be for me!
I’ve always known that being concise is not my strong point (witness the length of this blogpost, haha). There’s a lot that I feel passionately about, and I love to share what I care about with others. So I write a lot and I talk a lot (sometimes I think I’m making up for all my years of relative silence as a child!).
But distilling my passion into only 10 minutes proved to be extremely difficult!!!
In fact, I struggled and suffered over planning the speech for more than a week before the event. I thought about it most of the time, woke up in the middle of the night, and wrote pages of brainstorming ideas. And still, I couldn’t figure out how to pinpoint the most important ideas I wanted to get across and how to do it efficiently.
It was 5 minutes before my talk and I STILL had only a vague outline of what I was going to say. It didn’t help my nerves to remember that we presenters had been urged to rehearse and memorize our speeches four months before, and we weren’t allowed to use any notes or notecards; just a PowerPoint which I had opted not to do.
However, despite my confusion and distress, I continued to apply the Alexander Technique as I prepared. Even when my car’s GPS took me to the wrong state (!) on my drive to South Carolina for the conference, and even when my car died on the highway and I had to rent the car I’m still driving now (that’s another blogpost!), AT kept me sane and in a good mood throughout.
When it was finally time to deliver my “BIG Idea” Talk (not my term), the room was freezing and I was the last one to speak. My body was shaking from cold and nervousness, but I simply watched it all, letting myself be free to feel what I was feeling without trying to change the reality of my experience.
Once I rose to speak, the experience took over and started to flow. After my stilted beginning (“Hi. I’m Jennifer Roig-Francoli, and I’m also a violinist.” I’m ALSO a violinist? Haha!), the ideas just poured out and all of the work I’d been doing to prepare (mostly stopping my negative reactions to the ordeal) carried the talk like a river transporting ideas from my brain to my audience. I finished just under the 10-minute limit, and the audience was enthusiastic.
I’ve come a long way, it’s true…
Speaking in public will forever be something that I can improve on, to say the least! But the WAY that I’m learning to work on it (or any other activity) is what interests me the most.
This process drove home to me in an intense way that it is extremely important to be able to distill our ideas into ONE MAIN IDEA. We need to learn how to be CLEAR. About what we want… and how to express it so that we can increase our odds of getting it.
As I think about this, I’m realizing that I don’t have to wait until the next time I’m asked to give a short talk to work on this. I can work on being clear and concise every single time I speak. This idea makes me curious, and it makes me want to explore it.
I will explore it when I practice my violin, too, because making music is simply expressing ideas through music instead of words. When I practice, I can ask myself:
What is the ONE IDEA that I want to work on when I pick up my violin?
What is the ONE IDEA that I want to express?
How can I express it clearly and simply, without anything extra and unnecessary getting in the way?
I love the Alexander Technique, and I love feeling curious about life. I love being challenged, and I love exploring what is possible.
Thanks to the Alexander Technique and The Art of Freedom, I live and continue to learn. HURRAY!
I welcome your comments on this post. Thank you for reading!
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