The Quilt Scout

by Mary Fons


Column #15

According to an article in Forbes in 2011, only 10% of Americans enjoy public speaking. These ten-percenters seek out opportunities to get in front of an audience and say words. They catch a buzz from it. These people, they are my brothers and sisters. I am a ten-percenter. Here’s proof: last night I found myself happily speaking to an audience of over 500 people in Puyallup, WA.


Photo Right: Winston Churchill, one of the greatest orators the world has ever seen, feared public speaking. He got over it—and so can you.


The Sewing & Stitchery Expo in Puyallup is the country’s biggest consumer sewing show. Twenty-six thousand attendees pass through the Washington State Fairgrounds around the end of February every year to take classes, watch demos, and spend money. The show’s size owes to the fact it caters not just to quilters but craft sewists and garment makers, as well.


When I was asked to be the Saturday night headliner at the Expo this year, I was living in Washington, D.C. I remember where I was standing when I got the call and was told how big the show was. I was amazed. I was excited. I was honored to be offered the job.


I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t nervous. I didn’t think, “How many people? Headlining Saturday night?? What if I fall flat on my face??” All I thought was, “I love Seattle.” and “This is so cool!” There was no insomnia in the months or weeks or days leading up to the gig. I worried about plenty of other things in that time, but not once about my big lecture.


Whether it’s a church basement in Kansas City or a big event space in Naperville, I always go out before the show and meet people in the audience. It just seems like the thing to do. Waiting backstage to come out in a big entrance is for rock stars. I talk about quilts. This does not involve glitter or fire. When you book me, we hang out.


The time does come when I have to go take my spot to come out for the lecture. Last night, for the first time in a long time, I got butterflies when I went backstage to wait to be introduced. The butterflies were significant enough that I needed to take several deep breaths.


I peeked out of the curtains and it hit me just how many bodies were out there, all of them customers with high expectations. These people had chosen to give me their Saturday night—and they paid for a ticket. The stakes were high. And in the age of social media, the audience outside the door is way, way bigger than the one you can see.



You’re great. They’re into it. You’ve got this.


When I stepped out onstage, I knew everything was going to be fine. The secret to my success is to be prepared and be myself. I was both, and the event went beautifully.


Later, I thought about those who would like to earn a living (part- or full-time) in the quilt industry but who have acute glossophobia: fear of public speaking. It struck me what a handicap that would be, because to teach is to speak in front of a classroom; to give a seminar or lecture is to do the same, often to a bigger classroom.


Without being able to get up and speak confidently, the quilt industry freelancer loses a major revenue stream. And so I thought it might be helpful to share a few tips from over nearly twenty years of being onstage in one capacity or another.






  1. You must practice speaking in front of people in front of actual people -- cats and walls do not help you. Invite a few friends over and practice on them.
  2. Slow down.
  3. The lady who is is scowling from the third row, sending pure hatred from her eyes will be the woman who comes up after and tells you she’s your biggest fan. Some people look weird when they listen to things; let it go. I’ve experienced this countless times. Drives me crazy.
  4. This class, this talk, this webinar—it’s not forever. Don’t make this moment Your Entire Life. In a matter of hours, what you’re letting consume your brain and soul is just something you did today.
  5. Keep water nearby. I get dry mouth when I get nervous.
  6. The only time I freak out on a job is if I’m not prepared. Triple-check everything, then just roll it out.
  7. There is no magic line between you and your audience. You’re all people. You’re all in the same room. Just talk to them.


Good luck out there, quilter.