063: MMM Q&A - The Highs and Lows of Public Speaking
I got this thoughtful and totally understandable question from a listener last week:
I have done public speaking since I was a teenager, I have now been a Pastor for a year, and preach weekly. Each week, I need to create a new sermon. I find a lot of emotional energy goes into the preparation and the emotion peaks on the Sunday as I talk. Each Sunday afternoon and Monday I emotionally crash. I get flat, regret things I have said, doubt my capacity to speak and get sleepy. I understand that the highs and lows are very natural.
I am wondering, have you got any tools for managing the lows after speaking, so that I can bounce back quicker so that I can engage the world around me on Sunday and Monday?
What a wonderful question - and an important one.
The pastoral speaking schedule is especially demanding - and I have such respect for it. For those who give so much to those opportunities, it can be incredibly hard on our body, minds and spirits (and exceptionally rewarding).
I'm hearing two things in your email:
1 - The day-after regrets... Monday-morning quarterbacking, which is totally human, can be brutal and only somewhat helpful. I think it's really hard to have helpful perspective on a talk you've just given. That takes time, and room to process it. And if you are giving a new talk each week - well, time and space to process are devoted to the next week's talk. Unless you are finding a nagging and consistent nugget (or three) of feedback across many talks (either coming internally or externally), you have to give yourself a pass on the talk you just gave. I mean - pay attention to what you're feeling and what you're hearing - but don't obsess. Take the long view - look for consistencies - and keep it focused forward. There's just no way to get the kind of perspective you need on a talk that will (sadly) not exist again in that same form ever again.
Which brings me to #2 -
2 - The emotional toll of the ongoing and continuous process.
I'm sure a big part of what you do - knowing that this is a continuous cycle and demands so much - is to take care of yourself come Monday (and throughout the week) and make time for what a mentor of mine calls "wasting time" - doing things that seem silly and without purpose (but are actually essential for your brain/heart). Be gentle with yourself. Perhaps you need to NOT interact with the world around you come Monday and give yourself that space?
If you hvaen't already, take a listen to two pastors I've had the pleasure of talking with about their creative process: Hank Fortener and Sara Olson-Smith. They are both wise and wonderful.
This is partly based on a fairly well-documented process of creativity and innovation (which you might already be familiar with) - which is basically: Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, Verification.
Every creative act moves through this process:
We Prepare - feed our brains with interesting and thoughtful stuff. We read, listen to podcasts, talk with friends about our ideas, watch thoughtful tv shows, etc.
We Incubate - This is the part where things sink together in our brains... and it is only possible when we are NOT actively thinking about the subject. It happens during sleep, taking a shower, relaxing in front of a fire, taking a mindless walk, wandering around the house, etc. This is the part that usually takes the back seat when we're in constant creation mode - I know it does for me! This is why we don't come up with good ideas for our talks by sitting in front of a computer.
We illuminate - The "aha" moment of an idea! This cannot happen without incubation, and all that incubating is making something. It's why these come to us in the most random of times/places. (Make sure you can capture these ideas when they come to you!)
And finally - We Verify - meaning, we test it out, give the talk, try something, get feedback, etc.
And then the cycle begins again: Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, Verification.
The piece that might be most helpful for you is the Incubation time - the "wasting time" part of life that so often gets cut short by our busy lives (if you're not already giving yourself this kind of time and space). Literally, our brains need down-time in order to process all the input that we're constantly giving it. Without it, we short-change the creative process, come up with less AHA moments, feel especially exhausted and end up forcing our way through another week and without the brain space required to give a talk without a huge toll on ourselves - and the people around us.
And then there's this reality: sometimes the artistic and creative genius just doesn't visit us that week. And we slog our way through. That's ok. No one can sustain creative brilliance constantly - mostly because of the above process... we need that time to incubate in order to find those AHA moments. To hear a little more about what I mean about the genius visiting? - well, watch this beautiful and totally spot-on TED Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert. When I first watched this talk I felt this amazing relief! Sometimes the genius is in the room! And sometimes she's not! Oh well. Our job is to continue to do the work, make space for the process - and show up and see what happens. You do your part, and let go of the rest.
I hope this is helpful. You have my utmost respect for this demanding and important work.
Again, thanks for much for your question, and for reaching out! Courage!
If you have a question for me,
! I love to hear from folks, learn from what's challenging for you, and help find a way through.