Thursday, April 22, 2010

Lessons from the Conference: Saturday

At the MO Writers Guild conference, I led a workshop on chapbooks in the morning, and in the evening had dinner and gave a keynote speech. I am not a speechwriter, not at all. I learned:
  • Be organized; it helps when so much is going on around you.
  • People are impressed if you appear organized.
  • Far from feeling cheated that I wasn't doing everything ex tempore, the workshop attendees appreciated it when I read from something I'd written years ago about chapbooks.
  • Real-life examples -- I brought along every chapbook I own -- practically did the workshop for me.
  • There's a speech in every writer's future.
  • A speech is a transfer and amplification of energy.
  • Nobody minds if you read your speech rather than memorize it or make it up as you go along.
  • When I couldn't find a topic to precisely fit the title I'd announced six months ago, in desperation I chose an unrelated topic, but one that really gets me started: writers accepting less than their due. I was concerned it might end up a harangue or a Howard Dean Scream. There wasn't time to try it out on a friend. But I did rehearse. I am never, ever sorry that I rehearsed.
  • Speeches need not be as highly polished as essays. You don't need "good transitions" or perfect grammar.
  • Be yourself, with all your quirks. Onstage, you are as good as naked. No use trying to be somebody else.
  • People like it if you express your true feelings because likely you are also expressing some of theirs.
  • I had a "speaker shepherd," Judy Moresi, at my side during the cocktail hour and dinner, chatting me up as the hour of the speech approached, and I am so grateful to her, and to David Lucas for the whole concept of "speaker shepherds," because, although I was among fellow writers, like anyone in the spotlight I might otherwise have felt very chilled and alone.
  • Listeners appreciate it if you speak with spirit, not withholding or droning. I knew that, but didn't know if I could do it in a prose speech lasting 35 minutes. Sure I could.


  1. Woo hoo. Sounds like it was wonderful. Good for you!

  2. It was wonderful! Thanks Catherine!

  3. Thank you for this one. As I write this, I am putting together an application to present with my Plath Profiles editor and one other, at the next AWP.