My journey as a motivational speaker recently took me to Canada, another jump outside my comfort zone. Why was I nervous about speaking in Canada? Because I had never been, and I have this annoying habit of being convinced that this next job will be the one where I fail miserably. I’m working on it – following my own encouraging advice and all that. But there was a tiny bit of truth to my anxiety. You see, it’s this whole accent thing. There are people only two states away who don’t understand me. I wasn’t sure Canada, while English speaking people, would be able to understand a thick southern accent that adds three syllables to every word, often mixes up words, and has a tendency to relate everything to food or hair products. And while I was once fluent in French as a child, I was pretty sure the only thing left in my memory was the ability to count to twenty-four, and ask “Would you like to sleep with me tonight?” (more in thanks to the song than my sixth grade French teacher) a phrase which I’m pretty sure is not something that would come in handy unless a huge blizzard hit and I was stuck in a deserted railway station beside a skinny little hungry person who didn’t bring a coat.
So, yeah, I was nervous. But like I’ve said before, my dream is bigger than my fear, and I decided to jump anyway. And, long story short, it turned out to be okay. More than okay. Turns out the women were struggling with the same issues I was – life balance, time management, and not peeing when we sneeze.
When you’ve been a performer for as long as I have, you start to learn how to read an audience. You know when they get a joke, and when it’s taking a little bit longer to process. You begin to instinctively know when to slow down and when to turn in another direction. And it becomes like this beautiful dance number where you are honored to have the lead. And then there are those times where you step on their foot and the music comes to a crashing halt.
That’s what happened somewhere around moment 28:04 when I was telling them about my charming prince and how we’re at that stage of the happily-ever-after where the honeymoon has ended, real life has set in, and suddenly you’re getting a pretty good idea of what forever is gonna feel like. And up until now we are matching each other in this dance, step for step. Until I told them about my friend who had her husband’s handprints imprinted into cement and turned into a plaque she then hung on her living room wall. (Pretty funny story – remind me later and I’ll tell you about it if you haven’t heard it.)
It happened right after the line, “My friend had her husband’s handprint made up in cement…”, when I paused and noticed something in that pause. A look crossing my audience’s face. Not just a look on one or two faces – but a look on pretty much all of the faces, with the exception of the one person sleeping, and the other who, thanks to Botox, hadn’t had an expression since 1982.
When you are a speaker, and something out of the ordinary happens, you’re supposed to address it as best you can and move on. But if you don’t know the issue, you can’t just stop and ask the audience what’s wrong. I had no choice but to keep going – watching the confusion stay on their faces for the remainder of the story. Surprisingly, the end of the story got a huge laugh – oddly enough, much bigger than normal. But who am I to complain. Laughter is what we want. By moment 64:05 I had forgotten all about that blip in our routine, and we danced flawlessly together until the music ended and lunch was served.
I love hanging out with my audience after an event, to hear their stories and hug their necks, and promise to stay in touch by Facebook so we can share our kids awards, beautiful quotes, and pictures of ourselves from high school. And it was during this time of fellowship that I noticed a group of ladies standing about a foot away, whispering furiously and apparently conflicted about whether to approach me. I gave them my best “It’s okay, I don’t bite. Unless you’re going to tell me I suck, and then it’s game on!” face. And they shuffled up together as one, smiling nervously, and giving each other eye signals that said, “You tell her. No, you tell her.”
“We were wondering,” one lady said, laughing nervously. “About that story you told. The one about your friend’s handprints?”
“Ah, yes!” I said, nodding in affirmation that it was probably the best story they had ever heard. Or at least second best.
“We were wondering,” said another lady who had worked up the courage to finally say it. “Just exactly how one gets semen to stick to the wall?”
I pride myself on having faced just about every scenario a speaker can face. But I must admit, never in my years of being on the road have I been asked this question.
“I’m sorry?” I asked. Surely I didn’t hear her correctly.
“The semen,” said a loud lady with red hair and green readers at the far end. “We want to know how you got it to stick on the wall, eh?” The others nodded in unison.
Another group standing nearby, and obviously listening, jumped at this open door in the conversation. “We were wondering that too! That’s not something we’ve heard of here. Is it common where you are from?”
And by then others had joined in, until they were talking at once, nodding, and staring at me with puzzled expressions, mixed in with a few dubious looks from those who questioned my truthfulness, because surely putting semen on a plaque would not have slipped the attention of those dedicated Cosmo readers.
I was shocked speechless. For the first time in my life, my lips would not form words.
“Oh! Oh! We figured it out! We figured it out!” yelled a group of ladies waving their hands in the air and rushing up to join the crowd. “She didn’t say semen, she said cement! Her friend didn’t have her husband’s handprints made up in semen, but in cement! It wasn’t until she talked about the bum in the recliner that we finally figured it out! Oh! She meant to say cement I says to my friend who turned to her neighbor and whispered, She meant to say cement, who then passed it on. And so on and so on.“
“You should have seen her face,” says one red-faced woman pointing to her friend who works in accounting.
“We were all so confused,” shouted another.
“Janie tried to draw a picture!”
“Trina was looking up semen wall decor on the internet.”
“I just thought it was some newfangled type of modern art and who am I to judge! To each his own, eh!”
“And by the time you got to the end of the story, well we were so tickled that we couldn’t hold it in any longer.”
And on that note, the entire group erupted into laughter – raucous, bawdy, tears-streaming-down-our –face, doubled over, from-the-very-depths-of-our-core laughter.
And therein lies the reason for the bigger than normal laugh at the end of the story, as lady after lady whispered to her neighbor that you can not in fact stick semen to the wall. And I learned, once again, that real life is much funnier than I could ever make up.
And that is how a simple letter changed my show from G rated to X rated. Luckily the women forgave me for that faux pas in my diction (pause for you to make a joke), and moved on to the story where I shut my boobs in the desk drawer. And every once in a while over the course of the afternoon, someone would chuckle, and we would all know why. And we’d all start laughing all over again. Because it was so darn funny. And because it feels good to laugh.
So I’m happy to report that despite the whole miscommunication, it turns out that the women in Canada aren’t so different after all. Turns out they need encouragement too. They want to make a difference. They want to believe. And they love to laugh. And while our accents may be different, our dreams and fears – not so much. All in all, it was a good dance. I was honored to lead.
Okay, gotta run. I’ve just been booked to speak in Ecuador. And I’ve got a really bad feeling about this.
Just another wacky adventure in the journey of your misunderstood Southern motivational speaker