Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Say It, Don't Spell It! The Writer's Guide to Public Speaking

We've all heard this Seinfeld quote, right?

“According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

And, to so many writers, that rings true.

Now, let me preface my little advice here with some info. Before I was really a writer, I was a professional public speaker for 15 years. I was a teacher, a motivational speaker, and a program director. I've spoken before audiences with numbers into the thousands, in venues from California to Tennessee, and also internationally. And (here's the kicker) I still get nervous before every presentation.

So, how do you do it? How do you get over the butterflies (or in some cases, the vampire bats) and get up there, wow audiences, and give your book and career the best shot possible?
  1. Have Something to Say. Yeah, this seems like a no-brainer. But, you'd be surprised how many times people get up and plan on spontaneity taking over. After all, you're talking about your book, right? How hard can that be? Pretty darn hard, if you don't have a plan of what you're going to say. So, what should you plan?
    1. Your inspiration for writing. Why did you decide to write what you wrote? What life experience gave you insight into the world you created?
    2. The writing process. How long did it take for you to write your book? Where were you living when you wrote it? Did you write daily, off and on, or what?
    3. Your life. Why did you decide to become a writer? What were you before you started writing?
    4. Themes in your book. Your book has a subtext about cruelty to snails. Where did you come up with that? Why are you passionate about that? What are some real world applications to this topic?
  2. Practice, Practice, Practice. I still run through every single presentation at least twenty times before I give it. In the car, in my house, while I'm doing laundry, I memorize my presentations like a script. Now, I've been doing this for a while, and I generally adjust and improvise when actually giving my presentations, but when I was first starting out, I memorized until I could do it in my sleep. Videotape yourself, talk in front of a mirror. Don't leave anything to chance. What, you hate hearing yourself talk? Not as much as your audience will if you don't hammer out the kinks! Practice, practice, practice, and then practice some more.
  3. Give Yourself the License to Screw Up. The biggest reason people are afraid of public speaking is because they fear what the audience will think of them. And, trust me, it can SUCK to know that you screwed up royally. But, you WILL screw up royally. It's going to happen. It does to everyone. Prepare yourself, forgive yourself ahead of time, and push through it.
  4. Expect the Unexpected. One time, I had a heckler in the audience. An ACTUAL heckler. Another time, there was a child that ran up onto the stage and started crying. And then there was the time the fire alarms went off. Oh, and that time someone stormed out, screaming profanities. Yup, weird things can happen. Get ready for them. In fact, enjoy them. Trust me, there's nothing better than telling your friends about the guy that started undressing in the middle of your presentation. (Happened to a friend, not to me.)
So, have I succesfully scared you off? Hopefully not, because as a writer, giving presentations in front of your readers can solidify your career. And, trust me, you CAN do it. In a couple of days, I'll give one more piece of advice about public speaking: "Planning An Amazing Presentation"


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