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I once heard that the number one fear was public speaking, number two was death. So that meant if you were giving a eulogy you were worse off than the guy in the casket.
And this last Saturday, I realized how right they were. You see, I emceed the 33rd Annual Romance Writers of America’s Rita and Golden Heart Awards ceremony. Everyone who stopped to talk to me before the event asked the same question: “Are you nervous?” I just smiled and asked how close the Mexican border was. And since I was in Atlanta, no one seemed to worry too much about me packing my suitcase and slipping out of the hotel late Friday night.
I know, I know, I do a lot of public speaking. I’ve taught over 500 workshops and have presented to over a thousand people. I’ve been on television, I’ve done some small parts in a movie, and I’ve even done a few standup comedy skits. But this was different. I had attended the awards ceremony for years, and I had admired the funny, amazing emcees in the past. They always looked so poised, wore high heels and fancy schmancy dresses, and could give Billy Crystal a run for his money. What if I couldn’t measure up to them?
When Sylvia Day, the president of RWA, called and asked me to do it, I told her yes without hesitation. I was so honored to be asked, that it wasn’t until I hung up that I realized exactly what I’d agreed to do. This wasn’t just giving a workshop. This wasn’t simply teaching point of view or telling the mattress story. This was me, in front of my peers . . . lots and lots of peers . . . with bright lights blaring on me, and my face plastered on the big screen. And let me tell you, I have pores that I don’t like people to see up close and personal.
Okay, sure, I can be funny. I can be entertaining, and I love talking about writing. But I’ve never been poised, can’t walk in high heels, and there’s not much about me that’s fancy schmancy.
So, I took some deep breaths and called my agent. She didn’t answer, so I left a message. I’m pretty sure I said something like . . . “Oh, heck, I just agreed to do something and I think I’m about to shiiiit my pants.”
Me and my Agent
Being my agent, and knowing me well enough to know I get myself in some pretty bad shiiiit-your-pants jambs, she called me back almost immediately.
When I told her, she replied, “You mean they want you to present an award, right?”
“No,” I answered. “They want me to emcee. Like the emcee!”
“Wow, I thought you had to be the lunch speaker and sort of move up to that.”
That had my stomach clenching more. Jeepers, she was right. I needed to move up to this. Take baby steps. Not dive into the deep side of the emcee pool. I needed to pass out a few Ritas before I passed out trying to be the emcee.
Then of course my agent screamed in excitement, “This is awesome!” Then she assured me that I would do a great job. I wasn’t so sure. What if I started hiccupping like I did when I was twelve and that first boy tried to kiss me? What if I took to puking like my character Katie in Wedding Can Be Murder? I didn’t just make up that whole nervous puker problem. I’d lived it a few times.
Then I called my husband and told him, and he said, “Why would you do that? It’s too much pressure. You’ll be a nervous wreck the whole conference.”
I told my friend Susan and ended with, “I’ll need to lose forty pounds.”
Her answer was, “Yeah, and you need to grow a few inches, too.” Of course she was teasing. My husband wasn’t. I was going to be a nervous wreck.
I seriously considered calling Sylvia back and saying something like, “Did I say yes? I meant no.” (I still had Sylvia’s number in my caller ID.)
But then it hit me. The reason I wanted to back out was because of fear. Fear can paralyze you. It can stop you from growing as a person. Fear keeps us in a comfort zone and that’s why most of the time we give in to it. So I bit the bullet, pulled up my big girl panties, and reminded myself that this was an honor. And I did it.
I’m not sure I was as poised as those who came before me. My heels were only two inches. I wasn’t overly fancy schmancy . . . but I did have a lot of help from two good friends, Susan Muller and Jody Payne, who went shopping with me to give me advice so I at least sparkled a little.
I didn’t start hiccupping; I didn’t throw up. Oh, I didn’t lose forty pounds, I only lost thirty-one. And I never grew an inch—but that’s okay.
And the crowd laughed—so I must have entertained them. And Hubby was right, I was nervous through most of the conference. But what’s more important is that I didn’t give in to my fear. I’ll even admit that after I got the first laugh from the crowd of my peers, most of the insecurity faded and I went on automatic and did my dog-and-pony show. It was fun. It was an honor.
So now I’d like to say thank you to the RWA board for nudging me out of my comfort zone. And hey, if the Oscars call, I’m ready.
P.S. More photos coming soon!