I am an introvert with an extrovert streak. My introvert likes to write, read and watch an endless stream of Come Dine With Me. My extrovert loves to socialise and is happiest when given a microphone on a stage and asked to sing – at karaoke, at parties, wherever. In July I did my first book reading at L Fest and then my second two weeks later at Brighton Pride – but I wasn’t sure who would turn up on stage for these public speaking gigs. Would my shy writerly side win the day? Or would I be able to channel my karaoke prowess without actually breaking into a rendition of Teenage Dirtbag by accident?
Glossophobia (fear of public speaking) consistently tops phobia polls, racing ahead of death, darkness, spiders and heights. So this year has been momumental for me. I did a speech at my wedding and a speech at my parents’ 60th anniversary, a radio interview and two book readings. What I found out is that public speaking, like anything in life, is all about preparation and then more preparation. In the end, all of my public speaking engagements went well and now they’re over, I feel bereft and want to do more – turns out my extrovert won the day. Here’s what I’ve learnt during this crash-course of the past three months…
10 – No To Flappy Hands
Think about what you’re going to do with your spare hand. No, really. You might be holding a microphone and a book, so in that case, no worries. But if you’re mic’ed up and you have a spare hand, think about what to do with it. The less flapping about and the less distraction, the better.
9 – Humour Is Key
People respond to humour, so don’t take yourself too seriously. Could you start with a joke? Some kind of self-depricating humour? You’ll get the crowd on your side if so. Unless it’s a really bad joke.
8 – Dress The Part
Sure, authors don’t need to be dressed in a business suit, but if you turn up in a tracksuit, people might remember that more than what you have to say. Make sure they remember your words and not your ill-advised dress sense.
7 – Choose An Interesting Book Excerpt
Yes, yes, I know your whole book shimmers with genius the whole way through, but trust me on this – you really need to choose an excerpt with dialogue as well as description. Long passages of description are boring to listen to, unless you are Jeanette Winterson. But you’re not.
6 – Scope The Venue
Does the microphone work? How big will the crowd be? How big is the stage? Can you leave books at the back for sales later? All this and more can be worked out if you turn up a bit before and sort it then. No need for last-minute panic & stress.
5 – Slow Down
Really. Slow down. I thought I was reading slowly at book reading one – I wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t galloping ahead, but I could have gone slower. At reading two, I was slower and it helped. But these are things you learn as you go. I’m still learning.
4 – Record Yourself
Most smartphones these days have voice recorders and video cameras, so record yourself and see how you do. Tweak where necessary and try to improve on the things you’re already doing well.
3 – Things Might Go Wrong
At Brighton Pride, the power went off halfway through my second reading. No matter. I simply jumped down into the aisle to be closer to the audience and carried on. Be prepared for stuff to go wrong and deal with it accordingly.
2 – Work On Your Timing & Acting Skills
Doing a reading is more than just reading from a page. You’re acting, trying to bring your characters to life. Again, I’m only two readings in, but I’m improving with time. Project, exaggerate, be louder than you think is necessary. It works on stage, dahlink.
1 – Rehearse, Rehearse & Then Do It Again
Public speaking, like all things in life, is all about preparation. If you know your material, have rehearsed it, know how you want to stand and what to wear, you’re ready. Then it’s just about controlling your body on the days. Nerves, dry throat, clammy hands, the odd shake are all things to work on. But if you know precisely what you’re going to do once you take to the stage, that’s half the battle won. Good luck!