Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Public Speaking for Writers

It's inevitable that if you become a writer, at some point someone will ask you to speak about writing. It's also pretty likely that if you're a writer, you may be an introvert since writing is such a solitary process.

I am a complete introvert. Speaking in front of people takes so much energy and leaves me exhausted, even if it's only for a few minutes. Having to make even a phone call to someone I don't know can make me feel panicked. It's just who I've always been.

When I was working to become a published author, I never thought about the possibility of public speaking. I had heard about it, but always kind of brushed it off. My thought was, "I'm a writer, not a speaker." How wrong I was!

My first public speaking appearance came in February 2008, not long after my first book was released. I was scheduled to speak at the campus bookstore at UNC-Chapel Hill, and being that it was a college campus, my audience wasn't age appropriate readers of my book but college students hoping to become published (although there were two eleven-year-old girls in attendance, the manager's daughter and her friend!). That bumbling, stuttering, sweat-filled, "ten minutes late arriving" appearance began the now four year journey I've been on into public speaking.

At the moment, I'm getting ready for another public speaking event tomorrow. This one is at a middle school in a neighboring county and I'm a guest as part of their career day event. I attended last year and they asked me back this year. I'm not as nervous just because I've already been to this event and so now I know what to expect and where the school is located (I get lost very, very easily). Public speaking has become easier for me, though it's still not something I'm a natural at and it takes a lot of energy out of me. But I have a few tips that I've learned over the past four years that make it easier for me and might help you too.

  • Know your audience. Speaking engagements can vary greatly. I've spoken at large conferences for school librarians and teachers, and I've done school visits for anyone from fourth graders to college students. Find out who your expected audience is ahead of time. My speech and presentation change depending on the age level of my audience.
  • Know what your audience wants to know. Are you there to talk about your books, or are you there to talk about being a writer? There is a difference, and you need to know what your audience wants to hear from you. Ask the person organizing the event what he/she expects.
  • Print out maps of the location. As mentioned, I get lost very, very easily. Maps are my best friend, though I have to warn you that Google and MapQuest are very often WRONG. At least in my area, I've found their directions to be completely wrong more than once. So check, double check, and then pay close attention to the road signs on the way. Don't worry if you're driving at a snail's pace. The people behind you can just deal with it!
  • Wear good deodorant. There is no such thing as too much. Apply liberally. Reapply.
  • Wear clothes that don't pinch or bunch or twist. Because if you're onstage or at the front of the room fidgeting with your clothes, everyone will focus on that rather than on what you're saying.
  • You don't have to write a real speech, but outline notes are a very good thing. Just try not to forget them on your kitchen counter when you leave home. Even if you think you have your talk memorized, bring an outline to prompt you when you're standing in front of everyone and your mind has gone completely blank.
  • If you're speaking to several groups in one day, you'll get tired of hearing yourself say the same things over and over. Try to think of little ways you can change it up to keep from getting bored with yourself.
  • Bring props. A copy of your book (if you have one). A folder full of rejection letters is always a big hit with hopeful writers. An inked up draft of a manuscript to show how much revising you do is good too. Bookmarks, posters, postcards, whatever you have that you can sign because usually at least a few audience members will ask for an autograph.
  • If all else fails and you still stutter or forget what you're saying, go for the crazy writer angle. Creative people are supposed to be eccentric and strange, right?

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