It was February of 2017. I attended a lunch meeting for the charity that I’m involved with. Now I usually don’t eat bread (this subject will come up later), but I enjoyed the sandwiches. The meeting concludes and off I go to the tailor to pick up my alterations. As I bend down and reach for the bag on the floor I am struck with this excruciating pain in my chest. I drive home and the pain doesn’t subside at all, in fact it gets worse! I was trying to breathe deeply, like I’ve been coaching all my clients to do, but I couldn’t do it. I could only take short little breaths from my upper chest. I park the car, run into the house and announce to my husband, taking snippets of breath, that I should go to the hospital.
“Why don’t you lay down for a bit and see if it will get any better?” was his reply. “Oh sure” I’m thinking. “I will join the statistics of fit and healthy women who have a chest pain and lie down to DIE!”
The look on my face of “you love me, don’t you?” convinced him to get off the couch, get his keys and get in the car.
When you tell the nurse at the front desk at Emergency that you’re having chest pains, it doesn’t take long for you to get into a room. Soon I was being asked questions and hooked up to some kind of monitor to check my heart rate. Even though I was rushed in rather quickly, once I was on a monitor, there was a fair amount of waiting. I talked to my husband for a while and then, like all of us who are trapped in the world of our phones, I decided to check my email.
Out of the blue!
There was a new one: “Allow me to introduce myself”, it started. I don’t know about you but I never read an email that begins like that. But something told me that I should take a look at this and read it. This looked different. And it sure was. The writer went on to say that she was the Senior Acquisitions Editor for the Wiley publishing company. That’s the one that publishes the Dummies books. Would I be interested in writing a book on public speaking for Dummies? Dummies, those black and yellow iconic “how to” books that are found everywhere!
Remember, I’m lying in a hospital bed with chest pains and taking shallow breaths. And I know, because I’ve learned this, that when we take shallow breaths we are not getting the oxygen to our brain. Perhaps I am hallucinating! I pass the phone to my husband to read. “Yeah, this is from the Dummies.” Oh my! How did they find me?” Which is the question I asked the next day when I called her.
(After 10 hours of EKG’s, ultra sounds and heart monitoring, it turns out that I had an esophageal spasm. The bread that I ate went down the wrong way and got stuck!)
I receive the number that I have to call to reach Tracy at Wileys. It feels surreal. Here I am calling someone whose publishing house is world famous. One of the first things I ask is “Why me”. My husband is in the room and mouths, “Why not you?” My Masters thesis was on alleviating performance anxiety in public presenters but I’d only written a couple blogs. But she liked my website, thanks to Big Pixel in Edmonton, liked my approach and how I came to be a coach. We talked timelines and they wanted the book to be on the shelves by mid November. She told me she would get back to me. This was in February. A month went by and I didn’t hear anything. In April I received a note that told me to hang tough and in May I received a call that they have had a shuffling around at Wiley’s publishing but still want me to write the book and could I get a Table of Contents sent to them ASAP. Table of Contents? Have I mentioned that the only thing I’ve written to this point are blogs and a thesis! What the heck am I going to write about? I have learned that writing a Table of Contents is kind of the map. It is easier to expand and write a chapter if you know what you’re writing about. Duh! My husband is a journalist and just told me to write about what I know then write about what people need to know. Soon, a Table of Contents with 22 chapters was born. I had to write a sample chapter to make sure that I could actually write. Then my husband and I went off on holidays, and when I got back I received word that everything was OK. Originally they wanted me to write a chapter every three or four days! It was the busiest year yet giving workshops and working with clients. There was no way that I could keep up the pace. So we agreed to write a chapter a week. And the deadline was pushed to March 19.
Writing is a Piece of Cake!
The most challenging part of writing the book was finding the time to write. It was the busiest year coaching and giving workshops so it was hard to get time during the day to write. I’m not a night owl so I found that waking up early and writing was the best for me. I would get up at 5:30 and write until 7:30. Then I’d go off to work and snag more time during the day to write some more. Also to be as clear as possible. I’m not a natural writer; what I do is practical. So having to write it down so that everyone can understand what I mean was difficult at first. I did get better! Also, the editing process was humbling to say the least! For a chapter of 16 pages I received 55 comments all in red!
This is for real!
When I received the last set of edits the copy was in the Dummies format. I started to cry. No one was home so I sent a note to my editor, Corbin in Indianapolis, and told him “I’m crying now!” When I first received the actual copies of the book it was surreal. I still have a hard time looking at the cover, and seeing my name on it!
Since I had to articulate everything really clearly I became a better coach. There were tons of ‘Ah ha!’ moments. Whether it was listening to my pilates teacher’s description on how we breathe to a client’s experience regarding the pros and cons of power points. I drew a lot of my writing on what I learned in individual coaching sessions and the workshops.
People are amazed at things that I just take for granted since I’ve been studying the voice for a long time. One thing is the fact that to me public speaking is a conversation between you and the audience. I had a client tell me that he never thought of it that way. He just assumed that when he speaks to more than one person he has to reach everyone. Yes you do, but it is best to find someone in the group and tell them your story for a few seconds then look on to someone else. That way you can really connect with your listeners. I also had a client blown away by my explanation of why, when we hear ourselves recorded, our voice sounds so high. That’s because when we speak, sympathetic vibrations go through our skull, our ears and our face. The vibrations slow down and by the time the sound reaches our ear our voice sounds lower. Take three full breaths before you present. This activates our rest and digest nervous system and calms us down. You can do this even when the group is gathering around the table, or when you’re listening to the emcee introducing you.
You’re never too late!
I went back to receive my Masters at 50. They accepted two people; myself and a 28 year old. It was humbling to go back and fiddle through things, like the computer, which the young’uns find so easily. When it was time for a thesis, most vocal pedagogues (fancy name for voice coach), would coach a play in the Drama department and then write about their experience. I was more interested in working with business people rather than actors. Quite frankly there’s not a lot of need for vocal coaches in the theatre unless you’re working on a different dialect. Our youngest son, Jack, was asked to play the trumpet for the Last Post at his High school. On the day of the performance, he came upstairs and told me, “ I’m having a panic attack and I can’t breathe!” I instructed him to take some deep breaths, imagine giving a great performance and that this was a wonderful opportunity to strut his stuff. He went off to school and played. We don’t know how he did cause he wouldn’t let my husband and I attend!
That was where my thesis of alleviating performance anxiety in public presenters was born.
Really, I have no idea. I still haven’t gotten used to reading my name on the cover. I am still offering workshops and 1-1 client sessions, and keynotes but now I’ve added telling the media my story. Who knows where this book will lead me? I’m just so grateful for the opportunity to have written it. And now I get to sleep in. That is until I get a call to write the Revised Copy!