Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Having been an educator for twenty-four years (“crowd control with a beat”, i.e. teaching instrumental music), I learned early on how important it is to present yourself properly. Kids are very unforgiving. We all know how if they sense blood, they will “attack”. Remember that teacher who was gone by Christmas in their first year? We all have one of those in our past, I’m sure. Generally, they’re the ones with poor classroom skills.
Teachers also must know how to communicate effectively with their colleagues and with parents. Some of this is taught in Ed classes taken in university, but often it’s just knowledge gained along the way. Some teachers get it, some don’t.
Regardless of background, an author must realize that the job description includes, first and foremost, effectively selling yourself and your product (books).
So here are some of my personal observations based on a lot of signings (hundreds at this point), interviews (sadly, too, too few), readings and panels. Several are gleaned from hard knocks I’ve taken along the way. Hey, I’ve made the mistake, and if I can help you avoid the same error, that’s a good thing.
1. The most important (and is taken directly from my musical experience): Practice makes perfect. I cannot stress this enough. Don’t do a reading without practising it thoroughly out loud – and record it. Your attention is too scattered when you are doing the reading to analyze what it is sounding like. Be tough and honest with yourself, and then practise some more.
[A helpful hint (from a much earlier post here on Type M): you don’t have to read everything that’s in the passage you’ve selected. Lengthy descriptive passages should be truncated or eliminated altogether. You also should not plan to read from the book itself. Throw the passage (edited if that’s needed) on paper, using an easy to read typeface at a larger size and double-spaced. That way, if the light is poor, you’ll still be able to see things well.]
2. Modulate your voice and make a conscious effort to slow down your speech. We all get nervous and that generally makes us speak more quickly. Fight against that! You will be much more effective if you change your vocal tone so that everything doesn’t come out in a monotone.
3. Speak clearly. This is doubly important in an echoey space. If you don’t have a mic, speak to the back wall. Have water handy to keep your throat and vocal cords well irrigated. Again, recording yourself is invaluable. Also, try to find a large space and have a friend sit at the back if you can – then listen to what they tell you. Remember: speaking in public, especially reading, is a performance. Oh, and look at your audience as much as you can. Don’t bury your head in your papers.
4. When you’re speaking “off the cuff” monitor yourself for “ums”, “ahs” and other words that accomplish absolutely nothing. They’re also really off-putting after awhile, make you sound unsure of yourself, and break up your message. You wouldn’t allow “waffle words” in your prose, would you? They may also be a habit of your normal speech; they’re certainly a crutch you don’t need. Don’t let your voice rise at the end of a sentence, unless it’s a question. Again, this makes you sound as if you’re not sure of your topic.
I’m blessed with a son who has a diploma in public relations and he’s come to events, sitting there logging the number of ums and ahs, the number of times I went off topic or rambled, repeating myself. He also timed how long I spoke. The results were truly amazing to me in that I wasn’t really aware of any of my errors. It helps to make some quick notes (if you have time while others are speaking), to sort your ideas, come up with a pithy phrase or two, and help keep you on topic.
I firmly believe that being effective when speaking in public is simply a matter of wanting to be good and practice. Like any other skill, it can be learned. The nice thing is that you don’t have to pay for lessons, although if you are inclined in that direction, find the nearest chapter of Toastmasters International. They have programs that will really help you.
If you dread speaking in public, once you’ve learned to at least do it reasonably well, you may find yourself actually enjoying and looking forward to it. We’ve all got a bit of ham in us.