Are you shy? Are you an introvert? If so, you understand the horror that is public speaking. As a child you pretended to study the book on your desk so the teacher wouldn’t call on you in class (even though you already knew the answer). You stammered or stuttered or sweated your way through the dreaded oral presentation – and you still do.
I am one of those writers who would happily spend my days holed up in my dark, cozy cave, stories streaming from my fingers onto the keyboard, only coming out for chocolate and Mountain Dew. That’s my idea of a perfect writing life. No public speaking for me. No selling myself. But if a writer’s goal is to be published, she must satisfy some requirements and re-enter the light every now and then.
One of those requirements is a book event – in the case of my first one of a few weeks ago, that meant a discussion, a reading, and a book signing. (Just so you know, merely thinking of doing another one makes my hands shake and my stomach turn.)
I had done my research and knew how to prepare for the practical aspects of it: make notes and study what to say, bake goodies to share (brownies and cake), gather pens (for signing, just in case), as well as a bottle of water, bookmarks and business cards. I even showered and put on clean clothes – living in a cave can leave one dusty and rumpled.
But how does a shy, introverted cave-dwelling writer stand up in front of a group of strangers and sell herself and her book? The answer is…she doesn’t!
In my search for peace in this process, for a way to make it through the horror, I discovered two simple keys to survive a book event:
1. Don’t make it about yourself: Make it about the audience.
If you were in the audience, what would you want to know about a book and its author? Keep this in mind as you plan the talk.
- Include a brief introduction about yourself, where you’re from, how or why you started on your writing journey. The audience is made up of regular people (just like you, right?) and they want to identify with you.
- Talk about why you wrote this particular book. Out of all the stories you could have written, why did this one grab hold of you and not let go? Don’t be afraid to show your passion for the project.
- Many readers are also writers or they aspire to be. Explain what your process was like as you wrote this book – your day-to-day routine, research, the cycle of editing, your challenges and victories, how you put it all together. (My audience was especially interested in the fact that I color-coded the chapter outline of This New Mountain, cut it in sections, and laid the pieces out on the floor to decide what chapters went where.)
- In choosing what to read, what excerpt most exemplifies your writing but would also most hold the audience’s attention? Whatever you decide, keep it short.
2. Don’t make it about selling your book: It’s as simple as that.
- Selling a book would be great, but focusing on that could turn you into one of those sleazy car salesmen. You know, the ones with the fake smiles who circle round and round like vultures. Don’t go there, don’t even try – giving yourself permission to let go of this is enough to make a shy introvert dance in the streets (not really).
If I were to summarize what I learned from my first book event, it would be to respect your audience. Two simple keys helped shift my focus from myself to those who really mattered – the people who took the time out of their day to drive across town to hear an unknown author speak. And that made all the difference in my ability to handle the situation.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with public speaking. What is your advice to get past the “horror” of it all?