I made a terrible mistake when I mounted the platform to speak officially for the first time. I had been invited by a prestigious insurance company to one of their breakfast morning sessions to end the year at Christmas back in 2014.
I was nervous because I so wanted to impress the person who had invited me to speak. More than wanting to impress him, I did not want to let him down. I also felt that there was a lot at stake here. This was my first speaking engagement. If properly done, it could open so many other doors.
Given the theme for the session, I gave it much thought. I tried to find a unique, pseudo-intellectual opening and angle. I wrote, re-wrote, added, subtracted and just kept changing so many times in an effort to have the perfect speech.
I tried memorizing the speech just a few days before. I knew what I wanted to say. I knew my personal story. But I wanted it to sound exactly the same as I had it written down.
On the morning of the event, I got up early. I dressed in an immaculate white pantsuit with a sky blue vest. My accessories matched the blue of the vest. My hair was well coifed and of course although no one would smell my speech, I sprayed my best perfume that morning.
I thought I looked pretty good, all things considered. I knew I smelt good. I had lost a lot of weight since 2013; it was about twenty pounds or so. The pair of trousers was a bit slack but it did not matter. It fit well and stayed up without a belt.
Anxiously, I packed up the car with copies of my book for sale as well as the roller banner that my mother had given me as a gift at the launch of my first book.
We got there very early. “There” was a local hotel which was very close to the southern coastline in Trinidad. The view was magnificent. The cool morning air was refreshing and eye-opening. The sea was calm and the whole atmosphere was peaceful.
Final arrangements were being put in place as we walked into the hall where the breakfast was being hosted. We were greeted like celebrities. A special seat was allotted to us. There was ample time for the banner and books to be put in place.
Soon enough, the programme started but first we were invited to have breakfast. Breakfast was good I remember but I honestly cannot remember the various items. As we ate, a couple performed several songs, some local, some oldies not local. I was blown away by how good they sounded and by their performance. Speeches related to the annual insurance performances by the various agents and agencies were next.
Then it was time for the guest speaker…me! I went with my notes thinking that if I forgot or stumbled, I would have the notes to help me back on track. Big mistake. I got up in front everyone and, although I taught for so many years, I somehow got stage fright. I started to read my speech.
Sure I looked up and made eye contact. Sure I ad-libbed to some of my past students in the audience. But that did not change the fact that I read my speech. I knew my story so why did I do that? I must have panicked. I do not know for sure, but that must have been the reason.
I felt that I did not connect with my audience… and I most likely did not. I felt so disappointed with myself. I had let down the gentleman who had invited me. All they needed was a testimony. I went with the wrong approach.
The good thing about making that terrible mistake was that I learnt a valuable lesson. I could plan my speech but I must not read it. I should not even walk with prompts because I may just revert to reading them instead of speaking from the heart.
Since then I have planned my speeches. I know what my message is. I adjust the speech to suit the theme or the audience and then I talk…straight from the heart. I allow my personality to show (just a bit because I am not sure how many can actually handle my personality). I relate with the previous speakers. I make references to current events if relevant. Perhaps the most important thing that I do is to give praise to God in all that I do.
Making that terrible mistake the first time may have prevented any further engagements as a result of that event but, it taught me how to approach future speaking engagements.