Public Speaking

Lois West Bristow speaking in front of a microphone

My current speech, Me? Old? They’ve Got To Be Kidding!, addresses the elephant in the living room, the words we do not say.  Acknowledging old age and dying brings us face-to-face with our humanness.

Life is finite. It has a beginning and and an ending, birth and death, the bookends of life. Both are natural occasions accompanied by intense emotion. It is the acceptance of death that frees the energies committed to fear and denial, which then can be shifted to living an abundant and fulfilling life.

This speech gives an uplifting and at times light hearted perspective on overcoming the fear of death. As a society our current focus is on staying young, and while most want to live a long life, few want to get old. Interesting challenge since aging is the key ingredient of long lives, and no matter what we do to stay young, the birthday after 49 is always 50, not 48.

Aging brings a new set of challenges. it can also bring peace and joy. It can be the dessert of life.  Although the capacity to change is built into the human condition, it must be identified, nourished, trusted, and practiced. When it is, an individual’s ability to learn and grow can stay for a lifetime, enriching our lives along the way. Freedom to live life more fully comes when fear of death gives way to reconciliation with death.

A fresh respect for death as a natural and non-fear-laden happening is emerging. Interest in aging and how we as a society address the final stage of life is growing. The face of age is changing. Every day, almost 8,000 of the 78 million baby boomers turn 65 and qualify for Medicare. Many adults in their 50s and 60s are caring for aging parents and are taking a critical look at how they want to live out their own lives. Increasingly we ask, “Is there a better way? Is this how I want my own life to end?”

After turning the blind eye of denial to the issues of aging and dying, old age and death as topics of concern and discussions are now on the table. Just as we have the power to determine our lives, we now have the power to determine much about how we will be cared for as we die. Artificially sustaining life is not mandatory, however, awareness of our options is crucial if we are to influence the quality of our lives as we round the final turn.



PUBLIC SPEAKING: Its Essence and Role as Story  (A Personal Statement)

Over the years I have spoken to numerous groups on a varied subjects. We live our stories, or series of stories, the paragraphs, pages, and chapters of our lives. Stories hold gifts of insight that lead to new levels of understanding and wisdom. Stories find expression in myriad ways. One of the ways for me has been through public speaking.

Decades ago I gave my first speech on writing as creative expression to an audience of about 100 teachers. I was in my early 30s, and the butterflies were doing aerobatics in my stomach! Once the butterflies quieted, I found myself in the magical, never-before-experienced connection with the audience. After the speech a woman came up, and with tears in her eyes, told me that I had changed her life. I thanked her. While I realized something profound had happened, I didn’t have a clue how it had happened. What I knew for certain was that I had no power to change anybody.

Over many years and with much thought I sought to understand how we impact others and how others impact us. In time the realization came that we all send out energies, sometimes held in words, other times in actions, often through music and art, commonly via emotions. We send; we seek. In seeking we open to words read, said, or heard, to actions witnessed or experienced, to forms of art, and to the feelings people emanate. Bits of information or emotion, be it wisdom or love or vitriolic judgment, flow out into the world from each of us. If no one finds the message, the message means nothing. New perspectives are gained when one finds new information or inspiration. When a seeker connects with something that has been said, written, or experienced, new insight is born. Both sender and seeker are participants in the process. Both celebrate! But when that woman came to me years ago, I did not understand that, as brief as our connection was, she and I shared in whatever happened. It was a gift to each of us and from each of us, a fleeting partnership. Galileo, born over 4,000 years ago, said it well. “You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him learn it himself.” The reverse is true. No one can teach us, but many can help us learn it for ourselves.

No matter what constitutes our connections, we contribute to each other’s lives. As sender, take caution to be clear and loving and responsible. As receiver, develop a discerning eye and ear. Practice care in the thoughts and words and feelings we pour forth or seek out. In the process, when in doubt, ask your inner expert. Trust your intuition. Pay attention to your feelings. Listen to what they are telling you.

In the context of these thoughts I share insights through short stories, poetry, and speeches. This page focuses on speeches. To view a video of excerpts from The Inner Child, a short speech I gave recently, click below.

Anyone interested in having me speak to their group, please respond on the blog page.