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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Why I Talk About It

This coming weekend, I’ll be competing in a speech competition.  I’ve given this particular speech twice already, with some refinement between the first and second time.  The topic: organ donation—from the viewpoint of someone who was lucky enough to receive one.

Actually, I received two.  Maybe I should have titled this post Why I Talk about Them.  But "it" is my personal experience of being a transplant recipient.

One of the main reasons I started writing my memoir was to raise awareness about diabetes, visual impairment, and organ donation in general and pancreas transplants in particular.  Most people still don’t know one can be transplanted.  Some of them are diabetics who could possibly benefit from one.

While reading a book about how to write a non-fiction book proposal for a publisher or agent, I ran across an interesting bit of advice for building a platform—that all-important built-in audience of potential buyers.  It suggested doing speaking engagements.  That made sense.  It went on to suggest joining Toastmasters to improve your speaking skills so you don’t fall flat on your face at those speaking engagements. 

An organization that could teach me how to be a more dynamic speaker?  That sounded like a good idea.  I joined and started getting comfortable talking about myself for a few minutes at a time in front of a room full of people.

It’s a surreal experience, standing up and speaking in front of a bunch of people with normal vision when you can’t see their faces clearly.  They say public speaking is one of the most common fears people have.  I don’t think they polled legally blind ex-diabetic organ recipient cancer survivors.  After all that, it doesn’t frighten me.  Few things do anymore.  But, like so many things I experience, it’s surreal. 

Fast forward a couple of years to last month, when I spoke about what it’s like to go from being diabetic and doing dialysis to suddenly being free from both.  Later, a few people commented that they were going to have the “talk” with their family to let them know they wanted to be a donor if something happened to them.

My first taste of success in this new realm. 

I had given other speeches about interesting or funny things I’ve experienced.  The one about being a legally blind substitute teacher got plenty of laughs.  The objective was vocal variety, which any substitute (or regular) teacher knows something about.

One speech objective was to use my body.  I talked about the day George H.W. Bush flew into our little airport in 1988 to campaign for president.  I worked at Drake Field at the time and ended up being the one to flag in the last plane before he landed—the one that would be parked closest to his.  It had to be just right.  Airport employees were allowed to be closer to where he was than the general public.  We also got to board Air Force II for a quick look while he was out campaigning.

Then I was ready for my speech about organ donation.  The objective was persuasion.  Not surprisingly, it’s a topic I feel very strongly about.  This was my chance to inspire and motivate.  It brought me full circle to when I first started writing my story.

It’s hard to describe the feeling of fulfilling your purpose in life.  It’s sort of a heady, tingly, warm sensation with a sense of powerful intuition—the kind you know in your gut.  It’s being swept up and carried aloft by it without having to struggle.

I already knew my story was meant to be told in writing.  Talking about it and putting some emotion in my words and voice is a different level of intensity.  This rounds out the picture.  It gives a face—a healthy one—to something still shrouded in mystery by most Americans. 

It will be a larger audience this weekend.  Some of them will be competing against me.  I’m going to do my best, but even if I don’t win the contest, I will have won anyway. 


  1. Hey Jim, miss you so much! Glad to have found your blog again. I am so excited about your new speaking career! I can see you up there, doing a great job of telling your many stories and making people laugh in spite of the seriousness - because you are a deeply humorous person!
    Best of luck. Keep your readers posted on how it goes at the contest. We're rooting for you!!

    1. Thanks Kim! I appreciate all your encouragement. I miss you, too.