The dreaded speaking engagement,
an introverted writer’s worst nightmare!
Unfortunately (for many of us), being asked--make that being expected--to speak is just one more aspect of life after (and very often before) publication. Whether it’s giving an inspirational or motivational talk to the local seniors group or service club, or sharing from your well of writing experience at a writers group meeting or conference workshop, at some point you may be called upon to dig deep and find the courage to step up to the microphone and speak.
Why, you may ask, when you’d so much rather just hide behind your computer screen and write?
For one thing, speaking is among a writer’s best tools for [insert scary music here]
BUILDING A PLATFORM!
Yes, a writer’s three favorite words, right up there next to
YOU MUST HAVE A WEB SITE
YOU MUST HAVE A BLOG.
For many of us, even the most html-challenged, creating a Web site or thinking up fascinating blog posts is TONS less intimidating than speaking in front of an audience.
A recent random poll of my Seeker sisters revealed some interesting insights into our attitudes toward public speaking.
Take Ruthy, for instance. Ruthy, as you may have noticed, is just a wee bit outgoing. On a scale of 1 to 10, her “public speaking scare factor” ranks way down at a teensy-weensy 1. She admits to getting a little nervous immediately before a talk but says that’s just normal.
Our poised and prolific Debby is only slightly higher on the scare factor scale, rating herself around a 3--as long as she has plenty of prep and practice time.
Janet says she’s “all over the place.” She may start out at a 1 when she first agrees to speak, but the closer it gets, the higher her scare factor rises. “The day of the speech, I'm a wreck and ask for prayer. But once I arrive and get involved, I calm down and enjoy myself. At least so far.”
For Missy, it depends upon the occasion. She’s a 6 for smaller groups and civic organizations, an 8 for large groups like her RWA chapter, and a whopping 10 when asked to speak for her church’s women’s group! At one point, her daughter was afraid Mom was about to hyperventilate!
Sandra doesn’t seemed at all fazed by the idea of speaking--but then she’s our intrepid explorer and mountain biker.
I’d probably rate myself at a 5--and that’s only if I have lots of prep time and extensive notes. If I had to speak off the cuff, that number would zip right up to a 10+!
Others among us, I know for a fact, shiver in their stilettos at the mere idea of speaking in front of an audience. But when called upon, we swallow our fears and--as the slogan goes--just do it.
Platform, name recognition, and book sales may top the list of reasons why we torture ourselves like this. But Ruthy reminds us that speaking to groups offers an excellent opportunity to look our readers in the eye, shake their hands, and get to know them as real people. Debby also enjoys meeting readers as she shares her faith along with her writing journey.
Missy says she actually enjoys speaking once she gets started. She and Janet both enjoy talking about their writing and books. They also agree it isn’t about the honorarium or other forms of compensation but about connecting with their readers.
When you weigh the “scary stuff” against the benefits, it’s easy to see why authors (even the shy, retiring ones) pull up their big-girl (or boy) panties and seek out (or at least don’t immediately say no to) speaking opportunities. Here are a few Seeker tips to ensure a successful speaking engagement:
- Know who your audience will be--readers, writers, a ladies’ church group? How you approach your topic will depend upon your audience’s expectations.
- Print out the text of your speech in a large font and practice often until it starts to feel natural. Time your talk to make sure it fits into the time allotted. (Remember, when you’re nervous, you may tend to speak faster.)
- If at all possible, get comfortable enough with your talk to speak from notes rather than the full text. You can also highlight specific points and transitions on the printed speech so you can glance at it for a quick reminder.
- Place your printed speech or notes in a notebook rather than on notecards. If you drop loose pages or notecards, you may find you’re missing a page or your notes are out of order!
- If you’re doing a PowerPoint presentation or using other visuals, practice with them ahead of time. Arrange to visit the speaking location in advance to make sure you have all necessary hookups and instructions on how to operate the equipment.
- Dress professionally but comfortably. Before leaving home, check your attire from every angle and under direct lighting. You don’t want peekaboo underwear or a drooping hem!
- Upon arriving at your speaking venue, allow time to mix and mingle. It’s much easier talking to new friends than to a room full of strangers.
- If you’re eating at the event, be sure not to stuff yourself! Avoid any foods that you know will cause you allergy problems like increased sinus drainage or a “froggy” throat.
- In the days leading up to the event, and especially just before you speak, pray for calmness and the ability to focus.
- Make sure you have a glass of water at the podium. Throats can get really dry after several minutes of talking, especially when nerves are involved.
- Make eye contact around the room while speaking. And speak loudly and clearly. Slow down and BREATHE!
- At the beginning of your talk, be sure to thank the organizers and anyone else responsible for inviting you.
- Learn to laugh at yourself when you make mistakes (because you will!), and trust the audience to laugh along with (not at) you, knowing they want you to do well.
- Personal stories are always well received. Think about just being yourself and making a connection with your audience. Focus on making the audience comfortable. No one will enjoy a speaker who looks terrified!
- Consider offering a prize giveaway, such as a basket of your books, at the end of your talk. Have 3x5 cards available for people to sign up for the drawing as they arrive. (This could also be an opportunity to add names to your newsletter mailing list.)
- Allow time for questions at the end of your talk. Thank audience and the organizers.
But if you’re asked to speak to groups who are mostly readers (you hope!), it can be a little harder to narrow down a topic. Even so, most people are fascinated with the life of a writer--everything from where we get our ideas, to how long it takes to write a book, to what a manuscript goes through during the editing and publishing process.
Janet and others have found this especially true when speaking to book clubs. “Speaking to them energizes me,” Janet says. “I've even had book clubs do lovely things like replicating a meal from one of my books or decorating with hats in honor of my milliner heroine.”
Another no-fail topic is the story of our writing journey. Most of us who’ve gotten this far have had to persevere in the face of rejection, discouragement, and hope deferred. As Christians, we can speak of the role of faith on the journey, or of the serendipitous moments and “divine appointments” only God could have orchestrated.
Missy most enjoys talking about persistence and the first sale, and she loves to be an encourager to others. She still a little intimidated speaking to writers or teaching conference workshops because she feels like she’s still learning so much--yet she loves to teach. And the truth is, no matter where you are on your writing journey, there’s always someone who can gain from the benefit of your experience.
One of Ruthy’s favorite talks begins something like this. Holding up her first published book, Winter’s End, she says:
"They told me no one would ever publish a romance about death. But then," and I hold up the second book (Waiting Out the Storm), "they told me they'd never publish an interracial romance..." and then I hold up the third book (Made to Order Family): "But then they told me that no one is ever, ever, ever going to publish a book about two alcoholics trying to make a go of it.Finally, here are some resources that may help you prepare for the inevitable author’s speaking engagement:
"It appears THEY were wrong."
Connect! A Simple Guide to Public Speaking for Writers, by Linda C. Apple
If you’re a writer with speaking experience, what are your favorite tips and resources?
If you’re a writer who’s dreading that first speaking engagement, share your questions and fears.
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