When I was a teen, my family became active in church which meant I had to become active. I was asked to read the announcements, act in plays and my worst fear, asked to pray. I remember people telling me just open your mouth and God will give you the words to say. Um, that’s not true. If I opened my mouth, I would be standing in front a church full of people with an open mouth. #thatisall
I had classic stage fright every time someone handed me a microphone and pulled a podium center stage. Sweaty palms. Rapid heartbeat. Beads of sweat on the forehead.
If I said no, my parents would make me do it, which just made the anxiety leading up to the speaking event worse. To further exacerbate things, when it was over the feedback was always the same:
- You need to speak louder next time.
- You talked too fast.
- Don’t just read but look up from the paper.
UGH! I absolutely hated it.
I took a public speaking class as part of my communications program in college. For some reason I can still remember shaking as I gave a speech. I wondered How will I ever get over the fear of public speaking and be comfortable in front of a crowd? My hands literally shook.
Fast forward to 2006 when Brotherly Love and Betrayal was released. I knew then that I needed to promote my book, but standing in front of large audiences like I’d seen my favorite authors do seemed kind of far-fetched. My first book signing was in a book store at a decent sized mall. I remember my then publicist showing up and telling me to step away from my table and to get out of my comfort zone. Get OUT of my comfort zone? Why would I do that? I was comfortable standing next to my table wishing, hoping, praying that someone would come over to see what I was selling. I had been comfortable in my zone for over 30 years. Was he Krazy? Deranged? He forced me to step away from my table inside the store and made me stand just outside the entrance but in the mall area where people walked.
Beads of sweat on the forehead.
…but it worked.
My first book signing at the mall lead to meeting a book club>>which lead to more exposure>>which lead to more book club meetings in the area>>which lead to librarians in the area asking me to come speak>>to actually speaking on panels at writing conferences. And that’s how I came to be the woman I am today. Someone forced me, albeit with my fingers white-knuckled and gripped to the table, to get away from my comfort zone.
If I had not been forced out of my comfort zone, I would be a 40 something who still had stage fright and who still broke out in a sweat when asked to speak, pray or read.
Stepping outside of my comfort zone opened many doors. Now when people ask if I will speak to a group, I ask when and where? (and how much!?)
The cool thing about public speaking now that I am a writer is I am an expert on the topic I speak on–because I wrote it. I’m familiar with the characters because I created them and I love talking about my characters.
If you write about a particular topic, specifically in fiction writing, be sure it is something you want to talk about publicly. Readers are nosy (LOL) and they want to know all the details about you and your characters. You are special to them, kind of like when you’re at a party and you find out the person you have been talking to is a doctor. You instantly become intrigued by what they do.
If you’re going to be a successful writer—successful by your own standards—you have to be able to speak in front of people because inquiring minds want to know. That’s how you sell books. I found out something about myself once I stepped outside of my comfort zone: People think I’m funny. I never really thought of myself as funny, but when I speak, I hear people laughing.
Here are some tips I learned via on the job training:
- Anticipate people asking if your characters are really you. If you wrote about a couple dealing with adultery, anticipate someone asking if that ever happened to you. Book about abuse? Is it you in the book?
- Think of questions people may want to know about you or your characters. Why did you have the character react a certain way to a situation? What were you thinking when you wrote___?
- Beware and anticipate a heckler. Some folks come to signing events to play devil’s advocate. Rehearse how you’d react so you don’t end up with a heckler taking center stage for an event that should be about you.
- Have a story that details how you became a writer.
- Prepare to answer: What lead you to write your book? Events that triggered the story?
- Be able to tell what inspires you to write. What is your writing process? Where do you write?
- Envision yourself talking to a book club or a group at the library about your book. Imagine you getting personal and them up close taking notes about you and your presentation.
- Record yourself and rehearse your spiel about your story.
- Stand in front of a mirror and imagine someone asking you a tough question about your story and envision how you will respond. Look at your facial expressions and learn how to maintain a neutral face.
I hope these tips have been helpful to you. If you are still in the writing phase of your book, this is one more thing to add to your checklist before publication day. Practice makes perfect and you never know who’s looking at you and your journey.