Some of you are no doubt wondering how exactly I came to be invited to speak at the annual gathering of US geniuses. Well, here's how it happened. I have a friend and fellow drug policy reformer named Suzy Wills who also happens to be a MENSA member. She loves the articles I write on drug policy reform, the courts and my life in general and she thought I would make a good speaker, so she recommended me to the committee. The rest is in the bag.
I arrived around 3:30 and met up with my friend and fellow reformer Dawn who I invited to stay and hear me speak. We found our way to the sign-in desk where I got my speakers badge. The MENSA folks have something called speaker shepherds who escort speakers to their designated rooms. My speaker sherherd was none other than Gordon Maddox, who is also the treasurer of the Alabama Libertarian Party. I said, "Well I'll be it's a small world ain't it....Gordon I never knew you were a MENSAN." Gordon said, "Well it's not something I brag about." I said, "Hell, I would."
In the main ballroom there were a bunch of people partying, drinking beer and wine and eating good. Gordon offered me a beer a couple of times before I spoke but I declined. I usually save the good stuff for celebration afterwards, although when I spoke at the Wetumpka VFW back in Jan. 2006 I'll admit to having a double shot of Jim Beam before speaking. It was my first big event on the campaign trail and I was a nervous wreck. And, for once in my life, whiskey made me calm instead of making me want to kill people. Go figure.
My friend Suzy Wills saw me and came over and after a round of introductions we made our way to the Medical Forum B where I was to speak. Suzy had told me a few months back that it was important to have a lively description of my talk printed in the program. She said MENSAN's love to laugh and the better my program blurb was the more people would be lured into the room as opposed to the competition's rooms as there were many competing speakers at the same time.
My blurb in the program said:
A Dope Smoking Country Girl's Run For Governor Of Alabama
Loretta Nall will discuss her run for Governor of Alabama and politics from a woman’s perspective, the events that surrounded her entrance into Alabama politics and share the ever popular stories of why she does not wear panties and how her cleavage became an overnight sensation during the election.
My room was packed out, standing room only. There were probably 200 people sitting and a few standing. It was an impressive crowd. I would have never suspected that many MENSAN's were interested in drug policy reform, boobs, panties and Alabama politics. My friend Dawn kept asking me, "Ain't you nervous...I'd be a nervous wreck." "No, I get off on this kind of stuff...I am an attention fiend and this is my first speaking engagement since the election," I said.
I don't know why I like public speaking so much. Five years ago wild horses couldn't have dragged me in front of a crowd of people to say Boo! But, after I became involved in activism and spoke to a few hundred people in Atlanta in 2003 for the first time, I knew I liked it. No. I LOVED IT! I guess it fulfills the part of me that always wanted to be a rock star when I was a kid. It also gets me very high on natural brain chemicals.
I have no formal public speaking training....not even standing before a high school class and reciting a poem that I can remember. Yet, people often tell me that I act as if I have been doing it all my life. Yesterday was no different. My audience gave me their rapt and undivided attention. The organizers told me that I could expect people to come in and out throughout the hour, but I only saw people coming in. No one left until it was over.
Gordon introduced me and I began to weave my web of words for my audience. I had known about this event for months and kept meaning to sit down and write a speech worthy of such inltellectual minds. But, in the last five years I have learned that the best way for me to fuck it up and give a bad presentation is to write word for word what I am going to say, memorize it and try to deliver it like it sounds in my head. It always comes off sounding memorized and where I forget parts I stumble over words and lose my place on the page. It sounds canned and fake and without any emotion. It doesn't inspire anyone, doesn't make anyone think and most importantly it doesn't make anyone laugh. Laughter, to me, is one of the most vital components of public speaking. I gotta have it in order to feel like my speech was successful.
So, instead of writing pages and pages of words I simply wrote one page of topics starting with the helicopter raid in 2002, winding through my resulting activism and subsequent run for Governor, various events from the election including the boob story. I also told them about the prison panty adventure and about my alcoholic brother Randy being given the work release job of loading Budweiser trucks back in 1996. The laugh-o-meter tells me that the Randy story was tehir favorite followed by the boob story and then the prison panty story.
At one point they were laughing so hard that someone from the next room came over and said, "We can't hear in the room next door" to which some smartass after my own heart piped up and said, "Well, y'all come over here."
I tried to tone my voice down...really I did....but I am a loud person. I have a very rich voice that naturally carries and with a microphone and a little stimulation from my audience I can be heard for miles away. My apologies to the folks next door I didn't mean to cut in on whatever they were talking about. Afterwards though a gentleman came up to me and told me that he and his wife were in the room next door and that after they heard everyone having such a good time she told him to go next door and listen to the woman who doesn't wear panties so he could tell her about it later.
My time slot for speaking was for one hour which was divided into 30 minutes for speaking and 30 minutes for questions. It wound up that I spoke for over an hour as there was no one coming in directly after me and my audience wanted to to carry on longer than 30 minutes. I did have a question and answer period though and all of the questions were good. One person asked me after all I had been through with DHR and the complete rearrangement of my life if I thought it was all worth it. And the answer is yes, it is all absolutely worth it and I would do it all over again a million times.
After I wrapped up people from the audience swarmed the podium with more questions, to get pictures and business cards and a way to make a contribution to my work on medical marijuana and to offer their thanks for such an enjoyable talk. I mean the praise was rich, the best I have ever received anywhere and I felt like I was on top of the world. One lady who came to the podium introduced herself as a prosecutor from another state and she said, "I retire in 426 days and the first thing I am going to do is write a book about the absurdity of the drug war with emphasis on marijuana laws. Can I call on you for help?" And folks, that simply was the icing on the cake. Nothing makes me happier than seeing someone cross enemy lines and join the fight for good. I told her of course she could call on me for help with her book and I made sure she was familiar with LEAP. She plans to join them on the day she retires.
After we cleared out of the room we made our way down to the ballroom where it was feedin' time. The lines were long so I skipped the food but did finally take Gordon up on that offer of a beer. It was tasty and slaked my big thirst after an hour and a half of running my mouth. I socialized a little more, answered a few more questions and then took my leave.
All in all I'd have to say it was a stellar day. I miss public speaking and I want some more.