I value all of my clients, and each workshop or coaching session I do contributes to my need for learning and helping others. But sometimes classes come along where the only word I can think of to describe them is “magic.” I had such an experience teaching a presentation skills workshop for the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta , a non-profit organization that seeks to educate people in metro Atlanta about Islam and Muslims (online at ISB Atlanta).
The class was held on a Saturday, and when I woke up at 6:oo am to get ready, I would hesitate to call myself the queen of energy and enthusiasm. My husband Jay and I went out to breakfast, which helped, but the pouring rain and gray skies didn’t do much for my sleepiness. I never would have guessed that magic would happen on this day.
I arrived to set up, and slowly but steadily the participants trickled in. The men sat together at one table and the women made up the other two tables. Now I must admit that for all of my cross-cultural expertise, my knowledge of the Muslim faith falls short, but I opened my eyes wide to observe, and to see how I could adapt.
The first thing that struck me was the wide variety of participant backgrounds. Both the men and women came from all walks of life, from pediatrics to law to IT to stay-at-home mother. They came from a wide range of countries as well, including India, Pakistan, Jordan and Egypt.
As we began to share stories I quickly realized how much I could learn from them. Something clicked between us, and from almost the first moment the class felt like play, not work. I encouraged them to open their arms when presenting, and not to cross them in front of their bodies. Then they taught me that their faith teaches them humility, so the movements I was suggesting were not natural. I listened to their fears about presentations and watched silently while they unrolled rugs for the afternoon prayer. I encouraged them to take deep breaths for relaxation, and they taught me a Muslim prayer that Moses invoked, asking God to expand his chest so that Moses might speak to the people. And on it went – for each concept I taught them, they taught me something new.
Most of all, I was struck by their close-knit community. Almost everyone in the room knew each other; some were related and many talked of helping out with each others’ children. I showed them new ways to connect with the audience and watched as sincerity emanated from them.
I left the class energized and inspired by this talented group, and by the new doors that had been opened to me. I was honored to have gained a close glimpse into Islam, and now I only want to know more. For a moment I felt sad about all of the stereotypes that have kept many U.S. Americans from becoming educated about this faith and culture, but I believe the Islamic Speakers Bureau is changing that, one voice at a time.