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Behind the Podium: Thoughts While Presenting

It is generally agreed that presenting your work is a Very Good Thing. Notice the capitalization, it emphasizes the general consensus of goodness. ‘Good’ as in it allows work to reach a wider audience, for aspiring artists to receive love, feedback. After all, if the act of creating isn’t being witnessed, is anything being created at all?

Yet, presenting work isn’t necessarily a good feeling in the moment. After reading, when you’re returning to your seat to the courteous applause of the audience, there’s a sense of relief bordering on euphoria. While speaking into the reverberating microphone to a silent room, ears audibly straining to hear your work, it is entirely different, occupying the opposite end of the emotional spectrum.

This past weekend, I presented twice: once in preparation for a literature conference and the other at said literature conference. To give context to you, dear reader, I moonlight as a prose writer and have a past of musical theater. My parts included playing an overzealous eight-year-old with a lisp. One would assume that reading a fiction piece of my own creation, a work I’ve labored over for the better part of a year, would be simple in comparison. One would assume wrong.

But let’s examine the process.

Firstly, the scene: creative writing open mics usually take place in a classroom-esque setting (in one case this past week, it was in a classroom). There are rows of people, hands politely folded in their laps, staring forward as someone at the podium reads poetry and, occasionally, prose. Prose is not popular at open mics. I’m not entirely sure why, being a staunchly unpoetic person (You’ll have to forgive me poets).

Now a quick sketch of the presenter: face flushed, fingers trembling, palms threatening to sweat and the desperate hope that they don’t start sweating. Sweat might stain my pages of writing, make the ink run, pose a challenge for flipping the pages. It was obvious that I was shaking and perhaps one or two people in the audience were wondering if I would collapse. I was wondering the same thing.

All the while, only one thought persisted, “Why am I doing this to myself?” I understand the Very Goodness of presenting (see the beginning of article) but that didn’t calm me and neither did a few yogi breaths. It wasn’t until a few hours after presenting excerpts from my short story that I wondered why open mics and literary conferences were more daunting than singing and dancing on stage.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it is not the act of speaking my agonizingly crafted sentences into a microphone, cleaving a short story into a digestible five-minute time slot. It’s not the embarrassment of stumbling over my words, mispronouncing my own writing. It is the ownership of it all. When acting, or even reading another author’s work, there is a shield of protection. If it’s someone else’s work, there isn’t a sense of extreme perfectionism. Yet, with my work, all awkward sentence structures, nonsensical plot are mine. All verbal blunders are mine.

Speaking and sharing my work isn’t only a chance to be heard, it’s an exercise in vulnerability. And, perhaps that is a Very Good Thing, too.

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