The National Heirloom Expo, The Squash Epicenter, The Squash Super Bowl. I have called it many things in the past few months as I made preparations to attend for the first time. My nervousness and excitement grew as my dreams and participation level also grew. I had gotten myself into a beautiful mess of sorts as I responded to a critical email from Jere Gettle, president of Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, and founder of the National Heirloom Expo, with a very quick and decisive “YES!” to his question of if I would present a talk. This may not seem like a lot to many, but in the weeks prior, as a first year farmer, I had gone from the idea of I should go to the event, to being a presentation speaker. It was slightly terrifying upon review of my situation. It was a big step, but also something that seemed to manifest itself quite naturally. It was one of those thoughts that flashes in your mind, then 48 hours later, the email came. I tried to calm my near panic with soothing thoughts of “it is meant to be,” and “this is what you are meant to do,” but it wasn’t working. Regardless of all the reassuring thoughts, trying out my first ever Powerpoint at a National Expo seemed like a bad idea to most.
You see, it wasn’t simply a new Powerpoint, it was the Powerpoint that was rejected in my Hawaii agriculture class when my business plan was deemed “and unworkable business model.” There was far too much do gooding and elder outreach to be a real farm. I was doomed to failure as a farmer. Here I was like a farming Phoenix rising from the smoldering compost of my fledgling farm with my failed Powerpoint. Though the image was nice, the reality was still troubling. I decided that the underdog farmer’s story is just as valid as any other story, and that what good is giving a speech if nobody can relate to you. Everyone has snuffed the life out of a garden plant, or two, fumbled through absurdly steep learning curves, and had to practically force produce on people so to get them to trust your venture. So I slid in slides and talking points and the framework told my story, the story of a tiny zero waste farm trying to make a go of it in the midst of a drought, fruit flies, and unexploded WWII ordinances.
For those that do not think in terms of slides or transitions, or talking points for that matter, I am with you. I decided to change my way of looking at the Powerpoint and reenvision it as a photographic safety net. I was not comfortable with my speaking, but quite comfortable with my photography. I had roamed the globe, and crawled through muck to find the quiet angles of discovery. If I put in enough images I am sure they would shake the words out of me if I froze mid speech. My Father was a natural storyteller, or as the Irish say, he had the gift of the gab. He could inform, entertain, inspire, and more. I hoped to channel him during my talk. Having over six generations of now passed farmers looking over me, I figured one of their farmer entity spirits may have had some time off and would be looking over me during my talk. What I have forgotten to mention is that I often become so terrified when I give a speech, that I have little if any memory of the event. Perhaps a detail or two, like the woodgrain of the podium, or the ear rings worn my the person who “miked” me up because I have the voice of a mouse. I would be stunned as strangers would hug me post talk and marvel at the monkey story that I told. My response was frequently, “oh no, I told a monkey story?” But from what I would hear time and time again, it was a meaningful, well placed monkey story, so I had to just accept that my speaker mind went on autopilot and always saved the day.
I have taken my fear of speaking through many public speaking classes, and even took this fear internationally. I stood before an inter island grouping of tribal elders, and daringly chose to work without a translator, so I babbled my thank you to them in many tribal dialects. For once the monkey stories may have revelant, I may have told them, who knows, I went blank. So why did I keep doing this if it pained me so? It seemed like a reasonable question to those who were concerned about an ulcer being in my future. So why? The answer is a simple one for me. I love stories. I adore language, and the sharing of ideas. I want to be transported and inspired to reach new places. But most importantly, I believe that those who love stories need to be storytellers themselves. Your own sharing will create a ripple effect so that the great art of the speech will not be lost. Do and encourage others to do the same, one monkey story at a time.