SPEAKING OUT

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Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.

 

SPEAKING OUT

 An interesting fact: most people fear public speaking more than they fear death.

Having recently gone from reclusive novelist to active book promoter, I believe it, and I think writers are especially vulnerable to the terror of getting up in front of an audience and talking about anything, especially our own work.

My first experience in public speaking left an indelible scar, and it wasn’t even about my writing. At the time, I was a supervisor in my employer’s benefits department, and I had to participate in a presentation about certain changes to our plans. I wasn’t particularly nervous until I reached the front of the room. Then my mouth went so dry that my tongue felt like paper; dandelionmy hands trembled; and my previously well-organized thoughts scattered like dandelion fluff. I could tell from the pitying looks on my colleagues’ faces that my talk was a total disaster.

After that debacle, I enrolled in a public speaking class at the local community college, and eventually I got to the point where I could talk in front of a group without showing my nervousness. But I never enjoyed the experience.

In the years that followed, my hard-won public speaking ability eroded—like any skill, you either use it or you lose it.

Flash forward a couple of decades, and my novel Mending Dreams was published: a dream come true. That dream, however, came hand in hand with a nightmare: I had to once again venture into the spotlight, this time to promote my book.  I had to resurrect skills that had never been all that strong in the first place and were now mighty rusty. I needed help.

I found that help in Toastmasters 4 Writers, a delightful group of people who immediately understood my predicament and helped me get back on the public speaking horse. More than that, they made it fun. Since I’d already committed to a launch party for Mendintoastmastersg Dreams, I was able to jump right in and pitch my novel to the group, and their enthusiasm and encouragement carried me through the launch and on into a string of other appearances. Several of the club members even came to the book launch to show their support. The group has become a treasured part of my writing life.

I didn’t realize how far I’d come on my public speaking journey until recently, when I was asked to speak to a group of former co-workers at their monthly “alumni club” meeting. This talk needed to be longer than my usual 10-15 minutes, and the audience included not only people I had worked with during my career, but also some I had worked for. I was slightly intimidated.

However, I practiced the first part of the talk at my Toastmasters 4 Writers meeting and got some incisive feedback so useful that it pulled the speech structure into shape. Armed with that support, I felt ready to take on the (so far) biggest challenge in my book-promoter role.

From my point of view, the talk went really well. I kept the group awake after a carbo-loaded lunch, and they laughed at the parts where I hoped they would. But even more important, while I was talkingnov-2016-alumni-1, I realized I’m not scared anymore, and that awareness was the same kind of high I get when the solution to a thorny story problem suddenly comes clear.

This epiphany didn’t happen by magic. I’ve learned a few things since that disastrous speech many years ago:

  • First and foremost, preparation is crucial. Know your stuff and practice it every chance you get: if not in front of a group, at least to the mirror, the cat, or the dog. If you have the means to video it, do that.
  • Just as important—remember to breathe. Take a DEEP breath and exhale as you’re walking to the lectern, the podium, the front of the room—or simply standing up in place. You don’t want to be gasping for breath, and an oxygen-deprived brain won’t help you recall your talking points.
  • Bring water with you if possible. That dry mouth thing is a killer, and nobody notices if you pause to take an occasional sip of water in between sentences.
  • If your audience is larger than ten to 20, use a microphone. If you’re not strainimicrophoneng to make your words heard, you can focus on more important issues. I used to be afraid of microphones, until I realized how much easier they made things. Take whatever’s available—and if you’re using a hand-held mike, clamp that arm to your side and keep it there; gestures are great, but you don’t want to be waving that mike all over the place.
  • Even if I know the speech cold, I always bring a few notes, usually typed in 20-point Verdana so I can see them easily. This removes the fear of a brain freeze—which happens to even the most accomplished speakers sometimes.
  • If making eye contact is a challenge for you, seek out one or two friendly faces in the audience and return to them again and again for confidence, but focus on others as well. I bet you’ll find that most of them are smiling and looking interested, too.
  • Above all, if you’re speaking to a group interested in you and your writing, remember this: they’re already on your side. They want to like you. Got it?

 

I don’t know that I will ever enjoy public speaking, but thanks to my Toastmasters 4 Writers club, and my loyal friends who show up to support me, an invitation to come out and talk about my work no longer fills me with terror.

Conquering fear is a very empowering act. Maybe next I’ll tackle the Dreaded Blank Page Syndrome. Wish me luck!

14 thoughts on “SPEAKING OUT”

  1. What a great post to start the new year, Bonnie, conquering a fear many of us share. I wasn’t aware that Toastmasters had a group specifically for writers. It must work, for you’re always so poised when you speak. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. For writers, the writing is only half the work. But words are what we deal with… on the page. It’s when we have to speak them out loud to strangers that we freeze. And you are so right, having a friendly face out there makes it easier. But your points are so good. Know what you want to say and practice, practice, practice. And a secret: Once you have done the speech once, you can do it over and over with greater ease. Great points for everybody who has to do this.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Bonnie, you are so witty that I would not have guessed you were nervous about public speaking. Toastmasters is a great idea. I’ve thought about it. I think I’ll give it a try. Thanks for sharing your scary experience. That alone is nerve-wracking! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Well, Anonymous–you do a darned good job of public speaking yourself! But if you do give Toastmasters a try, I know you will enjoy the camaradie and the fun, and they could learn from you too.

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  4. Good for you, Bonnie, tackling public speaking head on! And excellent points for being successful. I’ve survived presentations in prior lives and as a writer–still rather be a recluse and just write. Doesn’t work, does it! (smile) Excellent post, excellent ideas, and excellent inspiration for me to start the new year off with. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, in a perfect world we could be our naturally reclusive selves, Mad, but this stuff comes with a territory. Wouldn’t trade the writing life for anything, though, and I know you wouldn’t either.

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  5. That was really a great post, Bonnie, and very valuable not only for writers. I’ve attended a few Toastmasters with a friend and enjoyed the meetings. (I also wrote up a local group, plus a competition for the newspaper.) You are poised and successful, so it works! Thanks so much for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jackie–and a big thank-you to you and Mad for promoting this post on Facebook. I think I touched a nerve. You would be a stellar addition to any Toastmaster group, BTW.

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  6. Wow, do I identify with much of what you said, Bonnie. I used to be terrified of public speaking and joined Toastmasters years ago after I didn’t do well during a moot court session that was required in law school. When I became a writer, I realized that public speaking to let people know about my work was crucial, so I just dug in and did it–and now it doesn’t bother me any more. I love the way you’ve learned to deal with it–and I know it’s worked well for you. Great post!

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  7. Thanks, Linda. I’ve seen you give presentations, and you always seem so calm and poised, so digging in and doing it has clearly worked too!

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