Last night I spoke about Freethought and atheism to a class at a small private university a couple of hours from where I live.
I was invited to speak by a teacher I’d had in high school (just a few years ago!). I don’t think I’d seen her since I graduated, so the talk was not only a chance to speak publicly about subjects I’m passionate about, it also meant reuniting with a friend from another lifetime.
Walking into a classroom and speaking in the middle of a session in which they’re teaching what you’re going to be talking about was a new experience for me. I had to watch what was going on, get some context and then try to work my stuff into it.
I think it went pretty well. When the other instructor (the class has two instructors, one of which is my former HS teacher) told the class about the Jefferson Bible my heart sank a little (I was looking forward to springing that one on them!). So some of the things I’d prepared were made redundant.
The things I had prepared were pretty basic, the idea was to hit a few main points and rattle off a few quotes, not only to impart facts but to prompt a discussion.
Q and A is my favorite part of doing public presentations for two reasons. First: I’m better/more comfortable discussing ideas than going on about ideas. Second: it doesn’t take long for a speech to get stale. Getting the audience engaged early is crucial. I think it’s probably more important to get an audience interested than to be smooth or score points (especially cheap ones).
It was a pretty good discussion. What was supposed to be a 15-20 minute Q and A went more like 40 minutes (I was irresponsibly not watching the clock). The audience had a range of backgrounds and positions and brought those to the topic. There were some who I could tell were hostile to nonbelief (although all were polite and respectful) and some who were not as hostile, sympathetic, or in agreement.
I spoke to a few class members afterward, every one of them was interested in the topic and thanked me for coming out. One young man even offered some advice which I will take note of. He pointed out, and I think correctly, that since I was talking on two subjects really (Freethought AND atheism) that while there was a clear demarcation between the two while I was lecturing, when answering questions the lines tended to blur and it all would be easier to follow if I was clearer when answering questions. I’m glad he took the time to tell me what he thought, hopefully his input will help improve future talks.
My friend told me that she was very pleased with the whole thing (even the fact that we went over time!). It was hoped that my perspective would add interest and value to the class and it had. I’m glad of that.
Now: to research and hone a new talk or two to have ready when needed.