Lessons Learned from My First Speaking "Gig"

I have dreamed of being a speaker at a homeschool convention for a couple of years now, and this past weekend, it finally came true.  While in many ways it was exactly what I was expecting and hoping it would be, there were some surprises along the way.  Here are some lessons that I learned:

1.  Be prepared for the unexpected.

My first workshop, “Bloom Where You’re Planted: How to not just survive but THRIVE during life’s transitions,” was designed primarily with an intended audience of new homeschoolers.  Much of what I had planned to say was about how to begin the process of homeschooling.  However, as I got to know the audience at the beginning, I discovered that NO ONE had been homeschooling for fewer than four years.  Needless to say, I had to do some adjustments on the fly during the workshop itself.

2.  Try to have as few “unexpecteds” as possible.

My first workshop could have been done with no equipment at all, although I had prepared a power point with a few key words on each slide.  The second one, though, involved teaching a few math lessons, and naturally I was planning to do some writing on a whiteboard or chalkboard.  About a week before the convention, I called the location where I would be speaking and found out there were no whiteboards in the room where I would be.  In fact, there weren’t any whiteboards in the whole building!  (This was pretty surprising considering we were on the campus of Mississippi State University.)

Knowing this ahead of time gave me the chance to design a power point that would enable me to teach the lessons without needing to write anything.  (Using my own laptop would have made it possible for me to “write” on the slides as we went, but I ended up having to use one of MSU’s laptops due to connection issues.  So another sub-lesson: always put your presentation on a flash drive that can easily be plugged into another computer.)

3.  Don’t measure your impact by the number of people in the audience.

When I arrived on Friday morning, I peeked in on some of the other workshops and saw about 5-10 people in each room, so that’s what I was expecting for my workshop that afternoon.  Instead, all but a couple of the 50 chairs were filled, and there were people sitting on the floor at the back of the room!

All along, I had expected my second workshop to be the more popular (because lots of people hate math and want to know how to make it more enjoyable).  However, only about 15 people attended that one.  (I was in direct competition with a workshop on how to talk with kids about sex, so that didn’t help.)

Nevertheless, in both cases, moms came up to me after the presentation to tell me something specific that had encouraged them in their homeschool journey.  In fact, after the second one as I was headed out to my car, a woman found me outside the building to talk with me and thank me for something I had said.  I had been feeling discouraged by the low numbers, so I really needed to hear that I was on the right track.

4.  Having someone along for the ride can be good for my mental state.

As I talked about here, one thing I usually love about homeschool conventions is getting to spend some time alone thinking and just enjoying the quiet, and then soaking up lots of information while I’m there.  However, this was a very different scenario, and I decided at the last minute to bring my son along.  This turned out to be a great idea!  Having another person around – especially one who had encouraged me in my journey to get to this point – was instrumental in keeping me from getting totally “in my head” and nervous.  Plus, he turned out to be a huge help for me in lugging props and such around campus.

5.  It is sobering to be viewed as An Expert.

Having taught in college classrooms (both brick-and-mortar and online) for fourteen years, you would think I would be accustomed to this, but speaking with a bunch of homeschool moms was a different experience.  I’m still relatively new to homeschooling, so it was quite humbling (and surprising) to see them taking notes on what I had to say.  One of the moms in the group had 13 children and had recently lost her husband.  What could I possibly have to offer to her?  Well, I have nothing to offer, but it turns out that the Lord did have something to offer, and He used me to give it to her.  What an amazing thought!

One week from tomorrow, I get to do this all over again with a new group of homeschoolers in South Carolina.  I’m going to be tweaking my presentations a bit based on what I’ve learned, but I’m certain that I’ll learn a new set of lessons there.  May God speak through me, give me the boldness to share what He’s put on my heart, and grant me the flexibility to change it on the fly when needed.