Seth Godin says that you can tell whether or not you have a tribe by discovering they miss you when you don’t show up.

I didn’t post last Wednesday, and I didn’t send out a Magical Memoir Moment on Thursday.

You probably thought I was just contemplating life beside the lake.

I'm living in the cottage to the left of the larger building. Photo take from the bridge between the Arboretum and the campus of St. John's University.

My home is to the left of the larger building.

Or watching the mist evaporate in the morning.

From my back yard.

From my back yard.

Actually, I was cramming.

I had agreed to give a Ten Talk — that’s like a TED Talk only shorter — at my alma mater’s homecoming.

It was the creative idea of the new alumni director and his team.

I flew back to Harrisonburg, Virginia, to Eastern Mennonite University, my note cards in my sweaty palm.

MC Eliza Heavener, Eric Kratz, me, Leonard Dow.

MC Liza Heavener, Erik Kratz, me, Leonard Dow. A major league baseball player on my left and a spellbinding preacher on my right. What great speakers, all of them!

Why did I leave my fall paradise in Minnesota to do this?

My alma mater asked me.

I got to see Stuart and other family members.

I love the challenge even though I knew it would stress me out.

It did!

I also had a good example of a blogger friend who gave a TED-X Talk.Below you can see Elaine Mansfield speaking from her heart without notes. I would love to give a TED Talk of my own some day.

Giving this kind of talk is much harder than the two kinds of public speaking I am most used to: extemporaneous and text-based.

You don’t really memorize a speech like this, but you have to control it because time is very limited.

I can’t share my own talk yet, since it’s still being produced, but I’ll share when it’s ready.

What good discipline it was.

And like most disciplines, it’s much more fun after the fact.

I’m adding the YouTube of the Ten Talks here on November 4, 2016. Hope you can enjoy all three. My speech begins at 26:10.

Are you trying to speak in a public voice in any new ways? Do you have any tips for our readers? Do you have any favorite TED Talks to share?

Shirley Showalter


  1. Efrieda Neufeld Schroeder on October 19, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    Shirley, thanks for sharing this video on the importance of ritual when grieving. It took almost a lifetime for me to discover this. Because I did not take part in the burial ceremony of our firstborn, I did not have proper closure. Also, we could not return to the place he was buried. I wrote my feelings in diary form and that helped. It also helped to plant a tree in his memory, a place where I can go, a place where his siblings and our grandchildren can say, “This is Harold Mark’s tree.”

    • Shirley Showalter on October 19, 2016 at 12:18 pm


      I’m so glad that Elaine’s talk touched you in a healing way. That’s one of the many benefits of finding a public voice. We can reach people who need to hear our message even if they are not ordinarily in our circles. Elaine’s blog is a treasure trove of helpful posts on the subject of grief. If you haven’t discovered it, check it out here:

      • Shirley Showalter on October 19, 2016 at 12:19 pm

        And I want you to know that your own story is very moving. You knew, instinctively, what you had to do to preserve the memory of your sweet firstborn.

        • Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on October 19, 2016 at 1:45 pm

          Thank you Shirley. I shared Elaine’s talk with others who I know will benefit from it as well.

  2. Laurie Buchanan on October 19, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    Shirley — You hat is off to YOU! I’m absolutely positive that the audience benefited from what you had to say. I can hardly wait until it’s ready for you to share it with us.

    I would have either thrown up, wet my pants, or done both simultaneously. I’m not a stranger to public speaking, but I get deer-in-the-headlights petrified immediately prior to podium time. Like you, I always enjoy those types of events much more from the rearview mirror perspective.

    Elaine Mansfield is a powerful presenter. THANK YOU for sharing her video here.

    As an aside… I’m currently reading BEFORE I SAY GOODBYE: RECOLLECTIONS AND OBSERVATIONS FROM ONE WOMAN’S FINAL YEAR. The author, Ruth Picardie, was 33 when she passed away. It’s an extremely “raw” book (for lack of a better word). I got it in the bargain book bin at my local bookstore. It seemed to be calling my name. Whenever something like that happens, I pay special attention because there’s usually a beneficial takeaway in store.

    • Shirley Showalter on October 19, 2016 at 8:05 pm

      Thanks, Laurie. I am sure you are a polished and engaging speaker, but I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who gets nervous.

      Regardless of how often we speak, there’s always a new audience or venue or genre to challenge us. Isn’t that great?

      You pick books the way I do. From inner radar. The book sounds like a good one to add to my list about books on death and dying. Thank you.

  3. Marian Beaman on October 19, 2016 at 7:03 pm

    You do have a tribe, Shirley, a large one, and I/we did miss you. However, through the grapevine I learned that you were cramming for the presentation at EMU and totally understood the situation.

    Public speaking stresses me out too, but I got a lot of experience as director of training for the cooperative learning program at the college, which now also features TED-X type talks. It must be a “thing” now. A good thing!

    I like TED-X talks and two are at the top of my list: Brene Brown’s The Power of Vulnerability and Elaine Mansfield’s Good Grief. Elaine has admitted to being an introvert and shies away from the spotlight, but her passion certainly shone brightly as she spoke from the heart.

    By the way, you have the prettiest smile in the group, Shirley. Besides, you have teased us with a promise of sharing your Ten Talk. I look forward to seeing it here soon.

    • Shirley Showalter on October 19, 2016 at 8:16 pm

      Aw, Marian, thank you.

      The TED model is so powerful I’m glad to see it spread. And what an excellent way to hone ideas to their essence.

      It also served the purpose of homecoming well. All speakers spent a lot of time reflecting on the impact EMU had on their lives.

      I intended to put a link to the talk(s) in this post, but then I discovered that the one I had was just a draft and that EMU will put up the finished product soon. It was too late to change subjects, so I decided to make this a two-part series. Next time, I’ll reflect more on what I learned about the form as I prepared.

  4. Carol Bodensteiner on October 20, 2016 at 11:38 am

    Like others who have commented, I’m eager to see your speech, Shirley. I’m sure you did an excellent job. I, too, am anxious ahead of a presentation, but I enjoy the experience once I start. In retrospect, I tend to over analyze what I could have done better. Oh, well.

    I found Elaine’s message powerful. I think our societal approach to death and funerals leads us to believe that one ritual is sufficient. It isn’t. After my sister died of suicide, I wandered lost in grief for almost two years before a friend took me to a Survivors of Suicide Loss Day where I learned more about the importance of community, of telling the story as often as necessary, and of ritual. After that, I created my own ritual for Jane. The journey of grief continues even eight years later, but as Elaine says, along with grief there is happiness. I’m sharing your post with others.

    • Shirley Showalter on October 20, 2016 at 1:22 pm

      Thank you, Carol. I know what you mean about how the experience changes once you get rolling. This time my fear was that I would forget what I wanted to say without the aid of notes and would start digressing.

      I’m so glad you watched Elaine’s talk and benefited from it. And that your loss of Jane no longer haunts you as it once did. May you continue to heal, and may Elaine’s wise words continue to help others.

  5. Richard Gilbert on October 20, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    I recently participated in a reading in honor of a friend who’d started a scholarship at our institution. I read from Woolf’s “A Sketch of the Past.” As an aside, I learned how much Woolf resists being excerpted—everything is connected even in her journals. Thankfully I’d practiced a lot because, for several reasons, I became nervous. I noticed my body was shaking as I read. But I’d practiced so much that it was almost like an out-of-body experience: my physical reaction hardly threw off my delivery, which was impassioned and involved looking at the audience. I thanked my late father who believed in practicing!

    • Shirley Showalter on October 20, 2016 at 2:42 pm

      I love this story, Richard. I taught speech to undergraduates years ago, and this is the kind of verification I looked for. Practice, practice, practice! No matter what art form we try to master, we have to learn this hard lesson.

      And even lots of previous practice does not relieve us of the duty to practice for THIS speech. Love this description: “my physical reaction hardly threw off my delivery, which was impassioned and involved looking at the audience.”

  6. susan scott on October 20, 2016 at 1:46 pm

    I have to say I was wondering where you were Shirley! The other day I put on the usual CD I play when writing/working in my study and this time really looked at the cover – The Choir of Benedictine Nuns at the Abbey of Regina Laudis. (Women in Chant. Greogorian Chants for the Festal celebrations of the Virgin Martyrs & Our Lady of Sorrows) – so I was especially thinking of you then!

    Elaine’s talk is very powerful – I’ve watched it before – and I love her blogs.

    I’d love to watch many more TED and Ted X talks; I save them for later – my file may explode soon with all those saved for later … I can’t think off hand about favourites –

    Good luck with the preps and evolvement of your public talk! It may require some practice to be comfortable in front of the camera. You’ll do great!

    The photos are so lovely – thank you!

    • Shirley Showalter on October 20, 2016 at 2:48 pm

      Thanks to you, Susan, I have just ordered your favorite CD. I hope to listen to it here and to enjoy it for years to come as a memory of this place and of your kind suggestion. I marvel at the fact that you are helping me connect to this place from your place in South Africa.

      I appreciate your confidence in me. Thank you. Maybe you would like to do one of these too?

      I’m off to see what you’ve been up to in my absence!

  7. Marylin Warner on October 20, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    Touching, specific and helpful video. Thank you for sharing this, Shirley.

    • Shirley Showalter on October 20, 2016 at 2:56 pm

      Marylin, glad you enjoyed/benefited from the video. Elaine is a great role model for all of us in so many ways.

  8. Joan Z. Rough on October 20, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    Shirley, Can’t wait to hear your talk, but know that it will be excellent. I am a bit nervous today as I get ready for a book signing and reading up in Winchester tomorrow night. And I was nervous just before my book launch here last month but once I got there I had fun. So, I’m betting I’ll be fine tomorrow night too. Glad to hear you are having fun!

    • Shirley Showalter on October 20, 2016 at 3:04 pm

      Thanks, Joan. I wish I could be in your audience, smiling widely, cheering you on. I used to tell my speech students that they can make speakers better by giving them positive body language.

      All best with your book signing in Winchester. You are getting around!

      Enjoy — as soon as those butterflies in your stomach fall into formation!

  9. June on October 20, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    Thank you for sharing Elaine’s TED talk. She is so correct about creating a ritual, even a ritual around death. My Dad died last year May, and it was my Dad and Mom’s wishes not to have a funeral, no ritual of saying goodbye. It felt very odd, and I think even my Mom felt out of sorts without a funeral to go to. The way my brother’s and I choose to remember our Dad is by one, having some of his ashes scattered out on Fransouis Lake, in northern British Columbia. My way of remembering my Dad was to plant a tree, a fruiting type Cherry Tree, to remind me of my time growing up in Victoria BC with my parents. And then, in the end, when my Mom dies, one of us, with again take some of her ashes up to Fransouis Lake, for me to plant a ‘mate’ cherry tree, and then to combine the ashes, and have them interned in her parents grave.

    • Shirley Hershey Showalter on October 20, 2016 at 4:40 pm

      June, I can’t imagine how hard it would be not to have a ritual of burial after the death of you father. And I’m so glad that you and your brother have created symbolically meaningful ways to honor your parents’ lives. Oh, and you will LOVE Joan Rough’s (see her note above) book Scattering Ashes.

      • June on October 20, 2016 at 11:32 pm

        Yes I did read and enjoyed Joan’s book

  10. Lucinda J on October 21, 2016 at 10:11 am

    I know the enjoyment in rising to meet a challenge. It makes us feel worthwhile every time we are brave enough and bold enough to master a new skill. I will look forward to hearing your Ten Talk–and your TED talk of the future.

    • Shirley Showalter on October 21, 2016 at 10:14 am

      Thank you, Lucinda. Education in the School of Life continues! Many blessings to you as you continue to accept new challenges also.

  11. Elaine Mansfield on October 23, 2016 at 8:54 am

    What a beautiful surprise, Shirley. I remembered where you were and what you were doing. I laughed when I read that a talk such as this is more fun after the fact. Limited time doesn’t give us the leisure of wandering off track or returning to pick up a forgotten point. I’m sure you did a wonderful job and look forward to hearing your talk. Thank you for featuring my TEDx talk in such a beautiful way. After giving that talk, no other public speaking has made me nervous. Finally, thank for the gorgeous photos. It rained here for three days. There’s been fog, mist, and wind. The stream runs for the first time since early May.

    • Shirley Showalter on October 23, 2016 at 10:47 am

      Thank you, Elaine. I hope you noticed how many people above benefited from watching your talk. I was inspired by you in both content and form.

      It’s good to know that the discipline of preparing a TED-X talk carries over to other public speaking. I was surprised to be so nervous despite years of giving up to 80 speeches a year.

      Glad you can enjoy the photos too. Yesterday was a perfect day for walking and photography. I took more and posted to Facebook. Photography is a form of contemplation, as you illustrate often yourself.

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