Public Speaking: Practice Makes Perfect?

AnotherReadThrougheventI’m not a hugely public person. In fact, I tend toward being a loner. I form deep and abiding relationships, but I don’t spread my socializing seed all over the place. I’m a friendly and well-socialized introvert, which is to say, when I’m at a party or a conference, I have a blast, but then I need recuperation time afterwards. You might not guess how much I crave my solitude and downtime when life gets too crazy. You might not see me for awhile, but I’m around and still your friend, and if you call needing help, I’ll be there.

My second novel, Whispers in the Mist (yay!) launches three weeks from today, and I’m starting to gear up for the more public side of the authorial life. This is the part that gets my anxiety cranking, because although I’m a well-socialized introvert, I am not — no way, no how, not in a million years — a public speaker. Yee gads, hell NO. That’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax, and I’ve been practically phobic my whole life.

However, when I chose to pursue fiction, I understood that if I should be lucky enough to get novels published, I’d have to face my fear of public speaking too. Life is a yin, and life is a yang, right?

The launch events around my debut Kilmoon just about killed me. I was a basket case. Now, a few years later, I’ve noticed that although I still need to gear up my psyche, I seem to be handling the public side better.

Practice does indeed make perfect–or at least, less phobic. In the land of therapy, this is called “exposure therapy.” Basically: facing your fears. Low and behold, it works.

I’ll probably always be a person who needs plenty of mental space before any public event so that I can prepare myself. I’ll probably always feel uncomfortable with winging it. But, yeesh, I’m so much better than I used to be.

In fact, this past weekend I participated in a panel discussion about “sense of place.” I thought the four of us authors would be sitting protected behind a table. The second I saw the lectern, my heart flipped and pressure started to build in my chest. Yeeks.

But okay, I could handle it. No biggie — until I realized that I’d misunderstood the concept around this panel. It was more of a reading with a QandA afterwards. Because of my phobic tendencies, I’d pre-prepared some things to say about the concept of place in novels, with reading snippets from Whispers in the Mist as examples. Oy!

What could I do? I had to get up there, and I wasn’t prepared to read a whole chapter. I hadn’t practiced that, so therefore: no. So, I copped to my misunderstanding, and then shared my thoughts about sense of place. It turned out fine, just fine. Fun even.

And afterwards, a member of the audience called me “wise.” I’ll take that!

I’ve learned two important things that have helped me tremendously when it comes to public speaking:

  1. The audience is rooting for us. They want us to succeed and are very forgiving, and I think they enjoy us the most when we’re simply being ourselves.
  2. Copping to misunderstandings or your nervousness or whatever it is, is a-okay. Better to just be honest and move on. Joking around a little bit about whatever it is, is great too. It’s just about being real, I think.

Are you scared of public speaking? What do you do to lessen your nerves?

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