What Author Doesn’t Love a Captive Audience?

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“Success in not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”

(Winston Churchill)

I’ll tell you a little secret – I don’t love public speaking and I suspect I’m not alone. That being said, having the opportunity to speak to a small group of people who are avid to hear me talk about my books does make getting over the whole not craving the spotlight thing, not only doable but, highly enjoyable.

Last week, I was invited for my fourth appearance at yet another of our local North Island libraries. I think I’m getting the hang of these author gigs. Over the years of not loving public speaking, I have figured out a few strategies that make the events go well.

I don’t like to begin an event by standing before a group of people and going straight into a long block of talking. To me, this is the cold-call of public appearances, to be avoided like the plague. When called upon to perform in this way, I am apt to plunge down into a well of self-consciousness and discover, somewhere there in the inky darkness, that my breath is short and my voice is shaky. Confidence takes a dive and it’s hard to carry on. Not impossible – I’ve been in situations where I did claw my way out of the well. Then of course there were situations like Colin Firth found himself portraying in the opening scenes of the movie, The King’s Speech. Just as an aside, I highly recommend this movie for anyone who struggles with public speaking. To see what poor George VI went through is to put all our own experiences in perspective.

Whenever possible, I am proactive and plan my center stage moments so they work for me. For my presentation the other night at the library, I started off with an ice breaker activity which I introduced in the following way.

When I meet people, I’m often asked – what do you do or what are you doing now? This is probably because I’ve had a few different careers. When I say, I’ve written a book, well, now two books, people will invariable get this look on their face and then tell me – oh, I’ve always wanted to write a book or I’ve always thought I had a book in me. I think this happens because the telling of stories is so essential to being human – it makes our lives and experiences real.

I’m going to pass around paper and pencils. Please jot down a few words that describe what the book in you would be about. At the end of the evening, I’ll draw one of these slips of paper and the lucky author-to-be will have their choice of either one of my books as a prize.

As people participated in this activity, there was laughter, chatter and positive energy circulating through the group. An atmosphere like that is contagious.

The next part of the event involved reading from my book, Disappearing in Plain Sight. Reading passages from one’s own work is both terrifying and exciting. Another method I employ is to have my husband Bruce share the first reading with me, specifically choosing a portion of my book that lends itself to two voices. Again, this allows me breathing room and gets me right over my self-consciousness about sharing my work.

After that – the library event was clear sailing. I did the next reading on my own, broke for questions and comments and when those wound down, I did a couple more readings. There was a casual, easy feel to the evening that I believe the audience liked as much as I did. I was able to wrap up with a passage from The Light Never Lies and that was really exciting. I pinch myself sometimes to believe I wrote one novel. To have written a second is beyond the beyond as the Irish so aptly put such things.

For me, careful planning of a public speaking event is always the key to success. I’m no pantser, for sure. I create a written breakdown of each thing that will happen with time frames and notes about what I want to say. And I practice.

I highly recommend that self-published authors get out in their local communities and share their work. For me, holding my book in my hands and reading from that book to a group of people is very rewarding. I watch the look on people’s faces as they pick up my book, admire the cover, flip it over to read the back and leaf through it – those are priceless moments, indeed.

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Thinking about the movie, The King’s Speech, got me thinking about this statue of Winston Churchill we took in Queen’s Park, Toronto a few years ago – ever the statesman and quite the public speaker.

19 comments on “What Author Doesn’t Love a Captive Audience?

  1. melparish says:

    Congratulations – it’s definitely worth overcoming the fear and getting out there and meeting your readers (or potential readers). I’ve done a few book events, but have always steered clear of reading from my book. Maybe it’s because I write mystery/suspense but it seems to me if you read anything but the first few pages, the story is going to be completely out of context. How do you decide which parts of the book you will read?

    • What a great question! Picking the pieces to read is tricky for the reasons you mention and with two books in a series that gets even more complicated because you don’t want any reading from Book 2 to act as a spoiler for anyone who hasn’t read Book 1. I look for readings that demonstrate interactions between key characters, readings that allow my descriptive prose to shine, readings that have a bit of humour or pathos. But steer clear of anything that gives stuff away. Like I said, complicated. I also try to set the reading up with a bit of an intro, as well. I think people understand that a snippet of a reading is not going to have all the context and they’re okay with that.

  2. Roy McCarthy says:

    I’ve yet to have the pleasure of that sort of ‘author evening’. It was some experience though to be able to do a reading from ‘Tess of Portelet Manor’ to an audience in the depths of the German Command Bunker last year, as part of Liberation Week. Preparation and practice is everything though.

    • Oh my gosh – the atmosphere of reading bits of Tess from the depths of a German Command bunker – it gives me a shiver and I would have loved to attend something like that. Makes me wonder how a reading events on the shores of our lake might go.

  3. oldmainer says:

    Love the Churchill quote. As to public speaking, I believe it is an acquired art. When first I tried, I hated it, but as time went on and I found I could hold an audience, it became more fun. I too use icebreakers and have found that when you first take the podium, the audience as much as yourself are holding their collective breaths. First they have to decide if they like you before they decide if they really want to listen. Sounds like you are on a roll. Congrats.

    • I am going to treasure this insight! The idea that the audience needs time to get used to me turns this whole nervous about standing up in front of everyone syndrome on its ear. My job is to put them at ease. How absolutely brilliant. Thank you. I’m certainly on a roll now.

  4. Cate Macabe says:

    Thank you for sharing your ideas for a book event. I especially like the ice breaker activity. I’ll have to steal that idea for my next event. And so nice of your husband to share in the reading.

  5. I love the idea of getting the audience involved with dreaming about writing; who knows how many people you’ve personally inspired to go home and begin writing their own book?

    I would be so disappointed if I went to an author event where the author didn’t read from his or her book, so good for you for overcoming your fears and getting out there! You’re building your fan base one reader at a time, and those fans are just waiting for novel #3!

    • I agree on the reading part – absolutely necessary. Readers want to hear the book in the author’s own voice. Who else but the author knows exactly where the emphasis and pauses need to go in a character’s speech? I love the idea that I might have inspired a budding author or two. Thanks for that perspective.

  6. jane tims says:

    I think you are fortunate to have a husband who feels comfortable participating in a reading. Bravo! I love your warm-up! Jane

    • Bruce is very, very helpful in all aspects of my writing career, for sure! His help is much appreciated. (I know he’ll be reading through the comments today, so I’m really laying it on – hahaha – just kidding). I think every self-published author needs a supporter who can fill a few different roles. I’m lucky.

      • jane tims says:

        My husband helps me too. He offers endless technical advice (my male protagonist is a welder!) and listens to the first full read of my manuscript. Behind every writer… Jane

  7. As soon as you mentioned public speaking, I began to perspire, Francis. I had flashbacks of oral book reports in grade school. I’ve never enjoyed it and have never gotten comfortable.
    Occasionally, I can be a pantser with my writing, but I would never attempt it when it comes to public speaking.
    Congratulations on those priceless moments, Francis! Well done!

    • I have known people who could really adlib their way through public appearances and no one is the wiser – a unique type of personality going on there. Maybe an over abundance of confidence. I used to get pretty jealous when I thought about those kind of people, but now I think about the Churchill quote – success or failure is not the final word. We just have to keep getting out there. Thanks for the congrats, Jill.

  8. Gwen Stephens says:

    I love the photo – saw it when you posted it up on Facebook. My husband always says being a teacher must be like giving a six-hour speech every day. There’s some truth to that, but the classroom nowadays is a lot more interactive and less lecture-oriented than in years past. Even so, being prepared is key, as you said in your post. I’m glad you had a successful event, and thanks for sharing how you get through it. I don’t know how I’d cope with that side of becoming a published author.

    • Thanks, Gwen. I always taught with the interactive element right up front – it helps. The public appearance and promotion of my work side of being an author is certainly one of the more challenging aspects. The fact that people are so welcoming and supportive really helps smooth out any awkward moments.

  9. Good on you, Francis! And, brilliant idea with the ice breaker. What a way to kick it off. Before you know it, you’ll have hoards in the audience and not enough pencils to go around!

    • I hooted with laughter over my keyboard at the thought of running out of pencils. I’m such a school supply hoarder and have been for decades – pencils we have lots of! Bring on the crowds 🙂

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