Monday, October 29, 2012

Dear Rocky: The thought of public speaking terrifies me

Dear Rocky,

I'm a writer. I enjoy being alone with my stories. And I'm delighted to report that my my first book will be released in about eight months. All good, right? Wrong!

I listen in awe to so many authors speaking in public, whether at conferences or book signings, and I yearn to emulate them. Comfortable, casual, knowledgeable, best selling (Ha!) - all that and more. But, and believe me, it's a BIG but, the thought of public speaking terrifies me.

When I became serious about writing the need to speak in public never crossed my mind. Now what do I do?



Dear Trembling:

First, congratulations on your book sale! Well done!

But to the point of your letter. You're not alone in your fear. Public speaking terrifies many folks, especially those who're shy or reclusive, such as writers.

Early in my “day job” I tackled my fear of public speaking head on, and while I still get hit with a case of dry mouth before an event, my heart no longer tries to climb out of my chest.

A number of lessons learned have stayed with me from the Dale Carnegie classes I attended, the primary one being practice, practice, practice. If you're giving a speech or even a brief presentation, beforehand, retreat to some silent haven to practice your speech out loud. Over and over again. The point isn’t to memorize what you’ll be saying, but rather to wrap your lips and tongue around the words and concepts so you know your material and don’t have to read your speech, which is boring to an audience.

Speaking of your audience, remember, they're on your side. They want you to succeed.

You’ll also find that the more often you speak in front of a group, the easier it becomes.  So before your big solo events are scheduled, you might want to consider speaking on several panels, so that the focus isn't entirely on you.  Or offer to speak at a school, where you might be more at ease.  Again, practice, practice, practice.

Since you're looking forward to book signings and accepting writing awards for many years to come (I hope!), you might want to consider a class on public speaking. Two options are Dale Carnegie and Toastmasters, though there are many other choices.

Best regards,


Shannon Baker said...

A friend of mine who was so frightened of public speaking she actually threw up and hid instead of giving her valedictorian speech, started out by reading the newspaper to residents at a retirement home. She joined toastmasters and eventually scored a job as news anchor for a local TV station. I thought reading to people was inspired. Good luck! And congrats!

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Anonymous said...

Take Two (never post before your first cup of coffee).

I've never liked public speaking. Ironically, I worked in a career for 22 years that forced my hand with this activity. I'd love to say it grew to be something I love. Wrong. But it grew less fearful. For me, preparation was key. Also, I repeated this slogan like a mantra, stolen from the old deodorant commercial, "never let them see you sweat". A kind of fake it until you mean it inner code. For some reason, this helped me remember they only see what's on the outside, not all the turmoil on the inside!

Shirley Jump said...

I speak in public all the time and have learned that it's definitely something that gets easier the more you do it. If you screw up, laugh it off. I have a few standard jokes (like Julie's in her comment about the coffee) that I use when I flub something. Everyone does, so don't stress about that. Also, be sure to choose an outfit that makes you feel confident yet is comfortable and confident looking. You don't want something that cuts into your waist or that needs constant adjusting.

If you're really nervous ahead of time, eat light, but don't skip meals, and be well hydrated. Get a good night's sleep. Hit the restroom just before the speech so you aren't worried about spinach on your teeth ;-)

Don't forget to breathe. At the end of each paragraph in my speech, I'll pause a second to let people absorb what I said, and to take in a breath.

Also try to speak on things that you are comfortable with. I hate doing readings so I don't do them--I'll speak instead on the writing process or my favorite books or something that I am comfortable with. I have spoken to lots of book clubs, and sometimes I give them questions to think about beforehand, so that we have a point of discussion ready.

I rarely stand behind a podium because that makes me nervous. Instead, I take the mike and move while I talk. That lets my hands move while I talk, and lets me feel more comfortable. If you don't work well that way, then use the podium--in short, use what works for YOU. That's the most important thing to remember--if it works for you (whether it be notecards or extemporaneous speaking), then use that.

HTH! And most of all, have fun!


Patricia Stoltey said...

When I first made appearances before a group (even a group of one), my face would flush something awful, even when I thought I wasn't nervous. As others have said, it gets easier over time and all those horrible symptoms of anxiety go away...thank goodness.