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