Saturday, March 27, 2010

Unaccustomed As I Am to Public Speaking...

Reading Peter’s wonderful entry about his upcoming book tour across France not only filled me with envy and admiration, it also brought up some book touring memories of my own, some good, some not so good, and some that made me want to rethink my whole self-promotion strategy.  Fortunately for the poor, shy, and/or otherwise travel-restricted among us, the internet does provide one a venue for getting the word out about yourself.

The truth is, though, that there’s really nothing like meeting readers face to face.  I will say that the more books I write, and the more tours and events I do, the better I get at it, or perhaps I should say, I’ve become a lot more comfortable performing in front of a group. 

When my first novel, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, came out in July of 2005, it had been many years since I had spoken before a crowd. I used to do a lot of public speaking, in a previous vocational incarnation, and I had always enjoyed it. But it had been 15 years since I had appeared before an audience, and I wasn’t entirely sure I was still capable of turning on the old poise and charm quite as readily as I used to.

 I decided to boost my confidence by going into the event looking like a million bucks. My original plan was to lose twenty pounds and get a face lift, but as time grew short and neither of those things magically happened, I settled for a new pair of fetching shoes. I looked for weeks for something delicious to go with my carefully considered outfit, and finally chose a pair of gold backless sandals with a 1 1/2″ heel. They looked lovely as long as I remained still.  I hadn’t worn heels in so long that I tended to pitch forward when I tried to walk with any speed. They made me taller, as well, and I found myself trying not to knock myself out when I passed under low objects. 

When the day came, I was more nervous going in to it than I hoped I would be. You know how it is when you’re driving down the highway at 70 mph and suddenly you realize that you don’t remember anything about the last 90 miles? It was sort of like that. However, I was told by those who love me that I didn’t do too badly, under the circumstances, and I choose to believe they were telling me the truth. 

It is now five years and probably a hundred personal appearances later. Here is what I’ve learned:

1. It takes a great deal of practice and repetition to be witty and spontaneous on the spot.

2. There’s nothing wrong with using your 'A' material over and over, especially when you’re traveling.

3. If you’re going to read from your novel, keep it short.

4. Look at your audience when you speak - make eye contact.  They’ll like you better as a person, and you’ll better be able to judge how you’re going over and make adjustments in your presentation as you need to.

5. Don’t worry about it if you’re nervous.  Your audience is predisposed to like you.

6. Always wear comfy shoes.

post script: I have had more than one author tell me that joining Toastmasters is an excellent way to become comfortable before a group and to learn the ins and outs of public speaking.

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