Sunday, April 18, 2010

Public Speaking: Worse than Death?

I once read that most people dread public speaking more than death. And who's one of the shyest groups? Authors, of course. So combine the two and what do you get? Double dread. We write because we can do it privately, can mull over our words, can hide. We may spend years slaving over a book. Then what happens?

We're thrust into the public eye. At first it's not too bad. We see our name mentioned online when our books go up for sale. Then it progresses to reviews--magazines, newspapers, and online. OK, we manage to deal. We try not to cringe when we're misquoted or people misunderstand what we were attempting. We survive having our biographies splashed around the Internet and our pictures on Facebook. Some authors even revel in these bits of fame. Next come blog tours. OK, we can still use our writing skills, spellcheck, and cut & paste--all the author survival tools we know and love.

Then comes the dreaded phone call. "Will you speak to..." You freeze. Your mouth dries up. (OK, those are cliches, but you know that's what happens.) You manage to choke out a strangled yes. You have to do this, right? Appear in public. Before groups of people. All of them eyeing you. Gulp.

So you do one of two things. You scramble to prepare a talk and rehearse it. Ad infinitum. Or you procrastinate. You avoid thinking about it. And suddenly the day arrives and you have no idea what you'll say. Actually, it doesn't matter, because ready or not, when you walk to the podium, fear sucks every coherent thought from your brain. The notecards you wrote, if you planned ahead, look like a foreign language. The outline makes no sense. If you wrote your speech out word-for-word, the words blur together.

You stand there quaking and croaking. Words come out, but they make no sense. Your tongue races through a marathon of tangled thoughts. You stop. People applaud, but you aren't sure if it's because they're glad the torture is over, if they're being polite, or if you left them with some great insights. Still relief floods through you. It's over. You survived. Finally, you can relax.

Nope, not yet. You need to paste on a smile, answer questions, listen to people describe (in excruciating detail) every book idea they've ever had, and... Yesss! Sign books. The joy of a writer's existence. You love this as much as hearing, "I enjoyed your talk." But you live for the greatest gem of all, "I love your book." And for that, writers will endure almost anything.

1 comment:

Susan Kelley said...

Well said, Laurie. I'm a teacher and I shouldn't be so shy about talking about my books to the reading public but it's a different animal than teaching a classroom of teenagers. It is terrifying.