You’ve booked a public appearance to promote your work! Fabulous!! But, wait–that means you have to speak. Erm, like, in front of people. Maybe lots of people. Yikes. If the dread has you fantasizing of calling off the whole thing, try these tips to conquer your fear and speak to a crowd at your author’s event:
Recently, I was listening to a Q-and-A hosted by a popular lecturer. A fan stood up and, with trembling voice, asked what he could do to become a better speaker. “How do I talk to a crowd?” he wondered.
“You don’t,” said the host. “You talk to the individual.”
Remember that your audience is made up of individuals. During your marketing work, you’ve probably designed an Ideal Reader. Target the content of your speech to this Ideal Reader. Picture your make-believe fan, and address her. What does she want to know? What problems can you solve for her? And what drove her to show up at your event? (For that matter, what do you hope to hear when you go to an author’s talk?)
“Hey, nice nose ring!”
If you focus on yourself–and your nerves–it will cause a spiral effect. You’ll notice your heart rate, quavering voice, and reddening face. That attention will only increase your nervousness until you’re so distracted you lose your train of thought…which makes you even more nervous!
Instead, focus on outward details: that refreshment table at the back of the room, the man with the wild eyebrows, or your best friend who came to support you but is sneaking a look at her phone because she’s already heard all your stories. Who’s wearing sneakers and who’s sporting nice dress shoes?
Don’t look for so many odd details that you derail your own momentum, but don’t be afraid to study your surroundings. You can even stop mid-sentence and give a shout-out to that kid in the middle row wearing the Doctor Who t-shirt 🙂
Someone once told me, “I never make a plan. I used to, but nothing ever went the way I planned, so I gave up.”
To put it delicately, this is nuts. Make an outline for your talk. Go off script if the spirit moves you but make a script! It can be broad, or it can be detailed–whatever makes you more comfortable. First, I write my must-tell points in bold type, then put supporting information in a smaller font. If I get stuck, a quick glance will guide me to the next main idea. But the smaller lines of filler keep me from relying on the outline too much. I have to pause and concentrate to find my footing with the smaller print. Sometimes that’s fine, but I don’t want to read the whole document and bore my listeners.
But that wont be a problem, my friend. Read on.
My college professor used to tell us that twenty-seven was the ideal number of practice sessions to guarantee a successful presentation. I realized somewhere in the teens that he was being facetious and I’d just taken him literally… Trust me, if you aim for twenty-seven practice runs, your speech will be incredible. And it will happen long before you hit the twenty-seven mark… You know you’ve practiced enough when you can recite your speech under your breath during a grocery trip or morning yoga.
Most of all, meditate a little on your subject. You’re talking about a topic that inspires you. Bring back the feelings of the last year, what it was like to share your work after months of pecking away at your keyboard in solitude. The Himalayan heights and the Mariana lows. This moment is just another in a long chain of moments that make up your writing. Whether you have fun or have a cow, the moment will pass just like all others. So choose fun!
NOW YOU: Have you had the opportunity to speak publicly about your work? What were the best and worst parts?