Thursday, April 8, 2010

Successful public speaking 101: flash your underwear

Since the announcement of my three-book deal, I’ve had a number of writing groups ask me to come speak to them.

Most are calling dibs for the months surrounding my book release, which is funny – the idea that not only am I a desirable public speaker, but that booking me requires a 16-month advance notice and anything beyond the promise of free cookies.

Though I’m an introvert who’d be happy to live in a cave eating roots most days, I actually don’t mind public speaking. This is a contrast to Pythagoras, who if given the choice between speaking at a funeral or being the guy in the casket, would gladly climb in and pull the lid closed.

In the spirit of full-disclosure, I’ve warned these groups not to expect a stand-up comedienne. Blog-funny and book-funny don’t necessarily translate to in-person-funny.

I tried to explain this to my mom last night, but she disagreed. “You’ve always been a funny public performer. Remember the Christmas dolls?”

Ah, yes. My first foray into the world of professional presentations.

I was maybe four at the time, and all the girls in my Sunday school class were outfitted with obnoxious dolly costumes, herded onto a stage, and forced to bleat out a song that went, “We are pretty Christmas dolls, Christmas dolls, Christmas dolls…”

Not being a particularly gifted singer or an especially cute child, I wasn’t singled out for any special position in the chorus.

But during our first live show, it was clear to me someone needed to step up to the plate. The other girls seemed content to shyly murmur the words with downcast eyes and voices that couldn’t be heard over the piano.

This would never do.

Boldly, I stepped up and began to scream – yes, scream – the chorus.

“We are pretty Christmas dolls, Christmas dolls, Christmas dolls…”


Since the director hadn’t provided any choreography, I took it upon myself to dance along the top riser, lifting my dress up and down over my head in time to the music.

It’s possible I knocked another performer off the risers, though my mother assures me there were no lawsuits.

By the time the performance was over, several girls had fled the stage in terror, and at least one audience member had fallen off his seat laughing.

I wasn’t trying to be funny, but apparently I accomplished it. That’s often how it works for me.

So if you’re thinking of asking me to come speak at your writers’ group – hey, I’m flattered. If you have cookies, I’m in.

But I make no guarantees I’ll be funny. Not intentionally, anyway. And if you want me to lift my dress over my head, that requires an extra cookie.

28 comments :

Rhonda said...

Too funny!!! :) I don't suppose your mom has video of this humble beginning??

Sean Ferrell said...

Does this mean I will have cookies mailed to me at some point after my book is out?

NWFoodie said...

Hilarious! Damn I wish I'd thought of that when I was a kid and we had to stand up and sing.

Linda G. said...

LOL! Your parents must've been so proud!

Chantal Kirkland said...

That's so awesome. I think there might've been a similar scenario in my past, but I was dressed as a sun. And quite possibly, it was the skirt-in-the-tights thing that got me. But I won't confirm that. Never. Not in a million years.

Debra L. Schubert said...

Stop it, I'm dying here! This story is classic. I think you should "show and tell" it at your speaking engagements.

Just make sure you've got shorts or really pretty undies on under your dress. ;-)

KLM said...

Cookie whoredom. It's tough. Good for you that you're owning it finally.

As for your public-book-group speaking: laughing AT you, laughing WITH you. Whatever. A true comedienne doesn't get hung up on prepositions.

Penelope said...

Please tell me there is a video. Please.

Patrick Alan said...

I made you cookies. http://tweetphoto.com/16876746

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

I love this. Church functions should always have a four year-old flashing the audience.

Bill Cameron said...

So, wait. I show up at one of your events and I get cookies AND flashed? Awesome.

Xuxana said...

Ha! Why sing when you can scream? Brilliant :)

Sydnee said...

I'm not as funny in-person either. People don't realize the written wit undergoes several revisions before it's finally published on a blog or website, and you can't take back what you say out loud. :P Man, what I wouldn't give for a rewind button. That joke about the ridges on cucumbers sounded a lot better in my head.

Sydnee said...

Also: everyone knows shouting makes you funny! AND I HEAR IT MAKES YOU SOUND SMARTER, TOO!

Bill Cameron said...

I find the research and development cycle for my average snappy comeback is 18 months.

Tawna Fenske said...

Rhonda, we're pretty sure it was filmed, but I have no idea how to get a hold of the video. This was...er, 31 years ago? So I'm guessing the footage is long gone.

Sean, you may get cookies, but you'll be expected to flash someone for them. Be prepared.

NWFoodie, I'm not so sure my parents were proud that I thought of it.

Linda G, my parents probably figured it set the stage for what was to come later. I'm sure they were very afraid.

Chantal, ah yes, the skirt-in-the-tights. That was always a good look, wasn't it?

Debra, will consider ordering petticoats and bloomers for all future speaking engagements.

KLM, ha! Cookie whoredom. I love it! Funny, I never heard Cookie Monster mention that on Sesame Street.

Penelope, I think my parents have still photos somewhere, but alas, no video. Maybe if I'm famous someday, that video will surface.

Patrick, er, if you send a digital pic of cookies, am I supposed to send a digital pic of the dress flip? That seems wrong somehow, but I need to think about why that is.

Kayeleen, funny, they never invited me back for another church performance. I wonder why?

Bill, you've got a lot more experience than I do being a sought-after author/public speaker, so maybe you should consider rounding out your repertoire with a little flashing? Might spice things up a bit.

Xuxana, if you have no singing talent, I figure it makes sense to compensate by screaming.

Sydnee, now I'm eager to hear that cucumber joke! I agree that shouting makes you funnier, smarter, more talented, and cuter. I try to do it all the time.

Bill, I'm good at coming up with snappy comebacks on the drive home. Have been known to turn the car around just to have my say.

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Cynthia Reese said...

Did you at least have ruffles on your butt?? ROFL!

Isn't it funny how a book deal will transform us from nobodies into people book sellers will ask, "So, er, you don't need anything special? Just ... water?? Are you sure?? Do we need a security detail or anything?"

I swear. When they asked me that, I thought, "Am I missing out on something? What ARE all those other authors asking for?"

Hmmh. This could be a blog post. Thanks, Tawna, not only for the blog-fodder, but the fact that you truly ARE blog-funny and book-funny and in-person-funny!

Candyland said...

Hahahaha. Oh, Tawna. People are usually laughing at (not with) me too. In-person funny is definitely harder. I'm super awkward face to face but online I can say what I want without fear.

Angela said...

OMG. You know someone is going to ask you to sing Christmas Dolls at one of these speaking events, now, right? LOL!

Theresa Milstein said...

I think it's great that you're being invited to speak. They're doing some of the setting up for you.

It's funny because I'm a teacher, and in front of students I have no problem speaking or being goofy. But in other speaking situations, I'm nervous. If/when I get a book published, it will be interesting to see how I do.

Minta said...

Ohmygod Tawananananna, I totally forgot about that story and how hard Bridget and I laughed when you told it. And we probably spit out our lunch, because I'm sure we were eating something at the time. Hahahahahahaha. Love it! Miss you!

Jaydee Morgan said...

Ah, don't you love these kind of moments - that get brought up at every family function long afterwards? This story was definitely cute and comical. You're a true doll for sharing!

Christi Goddard said...

I'm laughing my ass off. I could totally picture that. I'm sure it's a story your mother told again and again through childhood to torment you with... oh, wait. No, that's what MY parents would have done: told the story to every boyfriend I ever dared bring into the house.

David and Dixie Fenske said...

Your part in the musical Christmas Dolls was the hit of the entire evening, (not just your parents and grandparents opinions). It was so funny and you were actually part screaming, part singing, but for sure in tune, with your "dancing" thrown in for good measure. I can assure you, no one else had the impact on the audience that you did. Also, seeing your grandfather, who was always so quiet and reserved, really 'bust a gut'laughing, was a priceless memory.

Jade said...

I laughed so hard at that image that I freaked my dogs out and now they're barking for no reason.

It was worth it though.

Claire Dawn said...

Seriously, your blog should come with a warning. Do not read at work, while eating or drinking, or when you might need to pee!

/SLAIN!

Jennifer X said...

OMG, that is hilariously awesome! No home video? I bet the guy who fell over tells that story to this day.

@ claire: I totally agree! So dangerous.

Tawna Fenske said...

Cynthia, I'm guessing I at least wore tights, but I can't remember. My mom might know. At any rate, I think I'm going to start traveling with a full entourage everywhere I go. Isn't that what writers do?

Candyland, I sometimes worry all this online socialization is making me incapable of interacting with live humans!

Angela, I hadn't thought of that, but I guess I'd better start practicing now, eh?

Theresa, I'll be curious to see how much speaking I actually end up doing. Certainly it's good for book promo, but I'm really not all that interesting :)

Minta, you know, I don't even remember telling you guys that story. Glad you enjoyed it!

Jaydee, it's definitely a favorite story in my family (as you can see from my mom's comment a couple down from yours!)

Christi, it sounds like your family and mine have a few things in common!

David & Dixie (er, that's Mom & Dad), I can always count on you guys to never let me forget stories like this one.

Jade, tell your dogs I'm sorry for the interruption and give them a cookie from me.

Claire Dawn, I will consider adding that warning immediately! In the meantime, mop off that monitor before it dries :)

Jennifer X, you know, I should start a quest for that video. That should be my challenge for the year -- trying to find footage of my stage debut.

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna