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[ Opinion ]

A Dummies Guide to Speaking at 12-step Meetings

There are more open speaker meetings than closed discussion meetings in my area. I love both types of meetings. For me open speaker meetings are a great place for fellowship and to hear a message of hope while closed discussion meetings are great places to share a problem and/or get down to the nitty gritty of the Steps and recovery.

I’ve heard some great speakers and some not-so-great speakers. I understand that people who share at the front of the rooms at 12 Step meetings are not professional speakers but I hear a lot of speakers who fail to transmit, in my humble opinion, what the Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous intended when they started the Fellowship. The basic text Alcoholics Anonymous advises us to share in a general way what happened, what it is was like and what it’s like today AKA our experience strength and hope. I hear too many people not following these simple directions. As a result I thought I’d provide my own guide to how a speaker meeting should be.

When it’s my turn to chair my home group’s speaker meeting it’s up to me to choose the speaker. This is a great responsibility. I am obligated to choose a speaker who will provide a good message to those who attend the meeting, especially the newcomers in attendance. In order to fulfil this commitment properly I have a few guidelines when choosing a speaker. The easiest way is to have already heard the person speak before. By choosing someone I’ve heard before I can be confident that they will provide a proper message of recovery. But if this was the only way people chose speakers than we’d never hear anyone new. To overcome this obstacle I will chose someone I have gotten to know either in person and/or have heard share numerous times at a closed discussion meeting. One can usually judge what kind of talk a person will give at an open meeting if one has already heard that person share on a smaller scale elsewhere. Once the speaker is asked and has accepted it is then up to them.

Now let’s go back to the suggestions on how to share – what happened (experience), what it was like (strength) and what it’s like today (hope) The first part of this equation should be brief but is essential to the talk in order for the newcomer to identify with. Far too often speakers make this part the longest portion of their talk which I believe is wrong. When I speak I will share examples of how the phenomenon of craving affected me and also how the obsession over alcohol/drugs ruled my life. I make this part simple and to the point. I then move on to the second part of what it was like (strength). I firmly believe that this should be the longest part of one’s talk in an open meeting. This is the part where I share how I overcame my addiction and put the disease in remission. I explain how I worked each of the 12 Steps and the importance of them in my recovery. Finally I will come to the third part of my talk which is what it is like now (hope). Having, “had a personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from [addiction]” I am a recovered alcoholic/addict and share how my life is today. Just because I’m recovered doesn’t mean everything goes smoothly for me but I am now able to handle what life throws at me without having to self-medicate. Despite the bumps in the road I face I let those in attendance know that my life is far better than it was when I was active in my addiction and in so doing I attempt to give the newcomer some hope that they too can have a better life if they stick with and work the program.

My speaking skills, like my recovery, have evolved since I first entered the program on January 7, 2005. I try to be entertaining while fulfilling the task I have committed to. There was a time I focused more on making people laugh than sharing what I was supposed to and it never went well. I’ve also had more things happen to me then when I first spoke and if I feel they are important I share them as well. Sometimes something significant is going on in my life and I will include that. This helps me in my recover and may also help someone else who is facing similar challenges in their recovery. For me the best talks are those from the heart and because of this I never plan out what I’m going to say. I mean, I have some idea but nothing is written down and often what I thought I might say and what actually comes out of my mouth it totally different. During the moment of silence at the beginning of the meeting I will ask my Higher Power to work through me to help the still suffering alcoholic. This is what has worked best for me and I hope you can take my suggestions to heart.