Monday, July 08, 2013

Crime Month

Every year the Crime Writers Association here organises a Crime Month, encouraging the libraries to invite authors in to talk about their work.  As a result, I've spent most of the month shuttling up, down and sideways along the length and breadth of Scotland, recalling as I travel Margaret Attwood's characteristically sharp remark that wanting to meet authors because you liked their work was like wanting to meet a duck because you liked pate.(Haven't worked out how to put in an acute accent!)

Public speaking is, when you think about it, a curious requirement of authors, that necessarily solitary breed.  Because you're good on paper it most certainly doesn't follow that you'll be good at talking about what you do, or even will be able to express it.

It can certainly be an ordeal and when I first started doing it that wasn't only for me.  There is nothing more excruciating for an audience than a speaker whose voice quivers with nerves and who ploughs doggedly on reading from the text in front of them, included the carefully thought-out jokes that fall flat because the audience has caught the contagion and is too nervous to laugh.

After one horrible occasion, when I found myself expected to speak after a lunch  in the middle of a square of tables, introduced by a chairman who hadn't bothered to learn my name properly and with such inadequate lighting that I couldn't even read my notes, I completely lost my nerve. (Moral: never do a favour for a friend.  As the bandit in The Magnificent Seven warns, 'Sooner of later one must pay for every good deed.'  So true!)

Fortunately, I found an excellent two-day course in public speaking, which basically involved doing things like singing 'Pa has a head like a ping-pong ball' to the William Tell overture so that humiliation no longer had any meaning and I haven't had a problem since.  Joking apart, it gave me the invaluable tip that to steady the voice before you go on stage, you breathe in as if you were smelling a rose and breath out as if you were blowing out a candle half a dozen times.

Once I had the confidence, I could junk my notes if I was doing an event on my own and just chat to the audience. We were all much more comfortable that way and I also learned that if you are ever going to want them to laugh at a joke, you've got to give them permission to laugh right at the beginning.  Introducing humour after a long serious talk doesn't work.  Believe me: I tried it.

What I have found is that when I'm on stage I develop a persona, as if I actor impersonating me.  Now I'm so used to it that i can step into it the way I put on a posh frock for a formal dinner, but the result it that I don't like having friends or family in the audience because they know me as someone different.  My least favourite speech of the year is the one at my book launch where i actually have the most supportive audience possible.

Is this a defence, mechanism to protect my own privacy, when I'm subjecting myself to inspection?  I'd love to know whether other people feel the same way.. 

1 comment:

Charlotte Hinger said...

I think your tips are very valuable. I've learned it's a great idea to do a little snooping in advance and find out about the facilities. I just returned from a conference when the sound system was terrible in huge, huge room. No fun for anyone.