Friday, October 21, 2005

Vanessa A. Johnson, Author and Now Speaker Too!

At my first booksigning in March of this year, I was approached by the Community Education Coordinator for my parish. I was asked if I'd be interested in leading a class on grief for the upcoming Fall Semester (a paid position). I agree, and the class was announced via their community booklet. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused those plans to be postponed at least until the Spring, according to the Coordinator.

A week or so following the hurricanes, I received a call from the Coordinator asking me to be the guest speaker at their Women's Club meeting on October 20th. I could make the speach on grief, the Coordinator said. Of course I agreed. I was told I could also sell my books afterwards.

As the date neared, I printed pages and pages of information on the subject of grief. I copied the table of contents from my book on loss and grief trying to prepare myself. And I prayed and prayed. As I said, this was to be my first public speech and I'll be the first to admit I was nervous as HELL.

On the morning of the event, I nervously repacked my book case, making sure I has enough books (the coordinator said to expect between 40-50 in attendance), and promotional materials (ink pens, magnets, brochures and business cards).

When the group convened for a 10-minute break, I said a quick prayer that I wouldn't have a brain freeze when I get up there, as I was due up immediately following the break. As the Coordinator introduced me, I again said a quick prayer to be able to pull this off. From years of being a certified instructor on my job for the past twenty or so years, I remembered a few things I'd learned in my years as a Supervisor on how to be an effective instuctor. 1) Don't just stand there and lecture to the students. 2)Include a funny story or two, to personalize the talk and 3) Involve your audience in the discussion. Doing these things make the time pass and help further the discussion.

I laid my papers on the poduim. I remember looking down at it right after I began speaking, and that was the last time I looked at it. I incorporated what I knew from my job and before I knew it, I had the group laughing, commenting and asking questions on the subject, some cried as they released pent up emotions both due to loss (death) and the stress of the hurricanes. Many heads nodded in agreement to what I was being discussed. I knew the subject of grief could be a hard topic of discussion, and I used current events (Hurricanes Katrina and Rita) and incorporated them into the discussion. All of the attendees were from my parish, so I knew firsthand of the stress/distress associated with the hurricanes and explained how grief isn't just associated with death.

Before I knew it, my talk was over and I was getting a standing ovation. When I sat down, I was immediately surrounded by many who wanted to purchase copies of my book and many who wanted to ask a question about the grief process or say individually how much they enjoyed the talk. The event was a huge success in my book. Not only was I paid for this speech (woohoo!), I was asked if I'd return at a later date and do another talk, to which I agreed. I was also approached by the president of the Women's Club about joinging the group, and by the president of the New Orleans Chapter of RWA about joining them. The Education Coordinator said again how she'd still like me to lead that class on grief and loss in the Spring for Adult Education. (Can you see me cheesing up in here!)

I guess if there are morals to this story, they are: 1) have faith in yourself, 2) know your subject matter, 3) rely on what else you know, and 4) know how to pray.

Here's talking to you.

Love & Peace,