This morning I gave a 15-minute speech about my experiences, strength and hope to a room of about 40-50 people. I spoke candidly about sensitive and quite personal subjects, but it felt empowering, and I received an unbelievable amount of love back from my listeners. I am coming to realize that being vulnerable is powerful!
Public speaking used to freak me out more than anything else. Even as I’ve been performing on and off for the last 20 years of my life as a singer, for a long time it scared the hell out of me to say anything between the songs. In the performing arts-high school I attended in Finland, us students were even offered a class in public speaking, and not in a million years would it have occurred to me to take it. I was too damn scared! I had always been terrified to speak up, probably because on many occasions I had been ridiculed or dismissed when doing so. This blog has given me an opportunity to finally begin to express my thoughts and who I am–a little at first, and more and more as I’ve gone on. Gradually I have summoned up the courage to physically open my mouth as well.
During my recent concerts I have started to communicate with my audience in a whole new way. My speeches, which used to be somewhat of a liability at my concerts, are becoming a way for me to connect with people in an ever deeper way. Dare I say it: my speaking has started to feel to me potentially as powerful as the music itself.
When I was 14 years old, and a big star in my home country Finland, I received a letter from a 12-year-old fan of mine named Riitta, who was in the hospital being treated for terminal cancer. Her wish was that I visit her at the hospital, and sure enough I went–I was honored to be asked. I was probably as shy as she was; I remember our encounter well. Had I not been as socially awkward as I was at that age, I would’ve liked to spend a lot more time talking to her. And I would have sung more than a mere verse and a chorus…hehe. Our meeting didn’t last very long, and unfortunately neither did her life. I received a letter after her death from her mother saying that Riitta talked about me regularly until her passing. Sounds to me like my existence in this world had affected her life as much as hers did mine.
Ever since my encounter with Riitta, I still often think of her. I remember feeling a true sense of purpose after our brief meeting, and since then I have always had a calling to help others, in whatever simple way I can. Public speaking, quite surprisingly, is becoming one way to do that, and I see much more of it in my future. Sometimes the things you fear the most, eventually reward you like nothing else would. Like a dear friend of mine, Robin Morgan, says: “the wall (of fear) is paper mache, not brick.” I think she might be right.