I was recently a guest on a “Meet the Authors” panel in New York with ten other women who had been published in the last few months. We spoke about how our books came to be: the initial idea for the story, the publication process, and our marketing efforts.
As each woman took the microphone, the passion for her work came out clear-eyed and full-hearted. How she navigated the publication process clearly struck a chord with the fifty-odd women in the audience, each hoping to see her own work in print or pixels one day.
But as for marketing and promotion, they were less enthusiastic. I heard a distinct note from several of the authors. Marketing and promotion sounded like a distasteful but necessary chore, like emptying the litter box.
Then one panelist stood up and voiced what many of us had been thinking. “Face it,” she said. “We are writers. Most of us would rather hide in our rooms behind our computers.”
A natural introvert, I could really relate to that. But in today’s literary marketplace, even with social media allowing us to stay at our computers, we can no longer completely hide—not if we want to be treated as professionals. We can’t equate marketing, especially face-to-face marketing, with taking out the trash, either. It’s a vital part of being an author, making sales, and generating interest for your next book. So, what do you do if even thinking about speaking in front of a group makes you want to upchuck?
1. Forget the clichés about imagining the audience in their underwear. Frankly, depending upon the audience, that would horrify me even more than speaking in public.
2. Remember why you are there. You arranged this event, or agreed to speak at it. You invited these people and they chose to show up. Now, what are you going to do for them? Reframe your presentation and your attitude toward helping your audience. Do you have important information to relate to them? In my case, I wanted to help aspiring authors by letting them know what to expect during and after publication. This took the focus off me and put it on what I could do for them. Therefore, since it wasn’t really about me, I didn’t have to worry as much about what people would think of me.
3. Preparation really is the foundation. Yes, you’ve been living, breathing, and sleeping your latest project for years. You’ve memorized your hundred-word pitch. You know everything about your protagonist down to her choice of toothpaste. But don’t, do not, if you’re nervous about talking in front of a group, try to wing it. Write out your entire speech if you need to. Keep within the time constraints you are given, if any. Practice. Practice. Practice again. Ask a trusted friend to listen to your speech and give you feedback. Or practice in front of a mirror. You might not notice a nervous tic that needs taming or a habit of saying “um” between every other phrase. When I rehearsed with my husband, I learned that I needed to slow down and pause between sentences. Revise your script as needed, and practice until you are comfortable looking away from it (audiences like eye contact) or even not needing it, except for a few key bullet points.
4. Get comfortable in your venue. Arrive early, to get a sense of the space and settle into it. Bring your notes. Bring those little items that make you more comfortable. My mouth gets dry when I speak, so I always have a bottle of water and my favorite lip balm. I fidget less if I’m holding onto a pen, so I bring one. Whatever you need to keep you settled and to reduce your fears.
And, finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help if public speaking truly terrifies you. Check in your local community for a branch of Toastmasters, so you can practice speaking in a safe environment and getting constructive feedback. Once you get comfortable and know your material cold, there’s no limit to where you can take it!
Are you confident in front of a crowd? What helps you the most? Any public speaking nightmares you’d like to share? (Don’t worry; we’re all friends here!)