Recently I’ve seen a number of writers almost panicking about being asked to speak. I understand. I am an innately shy introvert. As a kid I wouldn’t call the library to see if they were open. (Obviously before internet days.) I didn’t take debate or go out for drama in high school. At church as an adult I remember reading a portion of a letter in front of the small congregation and afterwards being afraid I wouldn’t be able to return to my seat as my knees were shaking so hard.
I think we approach public speaking all wrong. We’re all storytellers. Who hasn’t been with a group of friends, or at the dinner table, and told a funny story of something that happened that day? Or when someone else tells a story of a kid/pet/work, been able to contribute a story of your own? We share what excites us, amuses us, annoys us all the time.
Think of a funny story right now and tell it! Ack. The pressure’s on. I’m writing this and I can’t even come up with one! That’s because it is a command performance. We think about public speaking as command performances. What if instead we thought of it as talking to friends? A conversation. A conversation with a focused topic.
No one knows your book(s) better than you. You know your process, your struggles, your successes, your mistakes. You know what motivated you to write. Those are things the friends in your prospective audience want to know. Those are things you can share.
“But I hate speeches!” So don’t do a speech. There are other options. Here are a few ideas:
- Have someone interview you. Ask someone to collect questions from the audience ahead of time. Or create questions yourself. Or find a list of commonly asked author questions on the internet. In either case, take the questions, decide which ones you like and put those on your list. Order the questions in an order that makes sense to you. If there are questions that can be answered with “yes or no” mentally add “why?”
- Have a conversation. Ask the group a question or two. Answer too. For example, I started out writing magazine pieces, so when I went into a classroom, I asked, “Do you like to read magazines?” Of course, some of the students said yes or raised their hands. “What magazines do you like to read?” I called on specific kids. I told them magazines I like. Then I told them what I like about reading magazines. I explained the different ways magazines get their stories and articles. I might ask “What’s the difference between a story and an article?” A student or two answers. I agree. I tell them what I like to write best. I might show them some of my stories or articles. Read one. I might ask if they’ve ever gotten a grade they weren’t happy about on their writing. I tell them writers get rejections and explain how that feels like a failing grade.
- Do a reading from your book or a wip. Follow it up with an interview or Q&A.
- Do a show and tell with slides or PowerPoint. You can start with your bio. Students like seeing pictures of you when you were young, where you lived, where you write, your pets, etc. If you did research for your book, show pictures of places you went, stacks of books from the library, people you interviewed. Show them rejections. Read portions from discouraging ones and encouraging ones. Show them a stack of manuscript pages. Show them a critiqued page with writing all over it. Show them an editorial letter.
- Act it out. Have you ever acted out a scene from your story or done an action trying to figure out how to write it? Show the audience that process. Encourage them to try writing some action so others know what the action is. Or in a classroom have students act out various actions and see if the others can guess the action. (I’ve provided actions on strips of paper for kids to choose from.)
Wow, I’ve gone on much longer than I had intended. So next time, I’ll talk about preparation and practice.