As a newer author, I’m lucky in many ways. I’m an extrovert, and I started competitive public speaking at the age of 14. I love nothing more than getting up in front of a crowded room to talk about my work and publicly share my neuroses. Many writers I know—especially those new to the writing scene—aren’t nearly so comfortable. It’s not surprising, really. Authors are programmed to express their ideas at a keyboard, not in front of a microphone. The idea of speaking in front of a group can be terrifying. For many, the fear of public speaking is greater than the fear of death.
Here’s my free and unsolicited advice: Get over it. ;-)A writer has to express herself verbally in many situations, including conferences like Malice Domestic and the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference. Pitching your book to agents and editors, participating on author panels, speaking at new author forums where you have sixty seconds to wow readers with the brilliance of your work. All are great opportunities, if you can stay composed enough to take advantage of them.
There are at least a gazillion blog articles, books, classes, and videos that teach presentation skills and discuss conference etiquette. Most of them, however, miss a critical point. The best way to wow an audience is to show them the true you. Not the you that would rather huddle under the table. Definitely not the you that yells desperately, “Buy my book!” The you that shines when you feel the most confident. The you that bubbles with enthusiasm when you share your passions with friends. The you that often gets left behind as soon as you step up to the microphone.Once you feel confident when speaking in front of an audience, you will automatically escape most of the public speaking traps that all of those blog articles warn you about. But how do you build that confidence? The general advice (and it’s true!) is to practice. Give presentations over and over and over again. Advice that is exquisitely unhelpful for newbie, terrified authors. If you can’t gain a skill until you practice, but practicing makes you want to upchuck your orange juice, what can you do?
Practice mentally.It’s a well-proven fact that your brain doesn’t know the difference between actually doing an activity and visualizing it. Want to improve your golf score? Visualize the perfect hole-in-one. Want to get through dinner with your mother-in-law without sparking the next family feud? Visualize listening to her rather than talking at her. Want to build self-assurance when public speaking? Mentally rehearse speaking confidently in front of a group. By visualizing confidence, you stimulate the areas of your brain that build self assurance while simultaneously decreasing the drip, drip, drip of adrenaline that promotes stress. Believe me, it works.
Not a visual learner? No problem! Effective visualizations aren’t all about seeing. They use all of your senses. Sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch.I’ve used the visualization below to help me prepare for job interviews, speeches, and frightening medical procedures. It’s been a true gift to me and I hope it helps you.
Visualization for Presentation Success
1. Sit comfortably, with your spine erect and the crown of your head floating up to the ceiling. Sitting either in a chair or on the floor is fine, as long as you are physically comfortable and your spine is in “neutral.
2. Allow your eyes to close and your focus to go internal.
3. Notice your breath—without intentionally trying to change it. Feel the warmth and coolness of the breath at the tip of your nostrils. Allow your mind to focus on and pay attention to this feeling of the breath. This will be your anchor. Whenever your attention wanders, you’ll invite it back to your breath.
4. Remember a situation in the past in which you felt confident and completely at ease. Try to re-experience that moment with all of your senses
· What sensations did you feel in your muscles?
· Was your mouth dry or moist? Your jaw tense or relaxed?
· What was the rhythm of your breath?
· What expression did you wear on your face?
· Were your hands, toes, and jaw relaxed?
· What sensations did you feel internally in your throat, your stomach, your chest?
· What was your “inner dialogue” like?
The above questions are just guidelines. The specific sensations and sounds that you notice aren’t important. All that matters is that you try to relive this positive situation as vividly as you can while utilizing the senses you’re most drawn to.
5. When you’re ready, try to hold that confident experience in your body as you mentally step up to a microphone.
· What sensations do you feel in your muscles?
· Is your mouth dry or moist? Your jaw tense or relaxed?
· What is the rhythm of your breath?
· What expression are you wearing on your face?
· Are your hands, toes, and jaw relaxed?
· What sensations do you feel internally in your throat, your stomach, your chest?
· What is your “inner dialogue” like?
As in Step 4, the above questions are just guidelines. The specific sensations and sounds that you notice aren’t important. All that matters is that you try to feel confidence in this new setting as vividly as you can while utilizing the senses you’re most drawn to.6. When your mind wanders—and it will!—notice how your body responds. If your muscles start tensing, your breath shortens, or your gremlin mind starts giving you grief, take a deep breath and go back to Step 3. Feel the breath inside your nostrils, refocus your mind then begin the visualization in Step 4 and/or Step 5 again.
7. Continue this visualization for 5 minutes or longer if you’d like.
Your body already knows how to have fun—if only your trickster mind will allow it. Mentally rehearsing confidence in situations of stress is no different than practicing your golf swing. Pattern your mental muscles to find fun instead of fear. Like most life skills, visualization is more effective the more often it’s practiced. Try doing it several times a day the week before an event. You might be astounded at the difference!
Those of you who will be at Malice next month, know that I will be there cheering you on, hoping for your complete and utter success. I’m happy to give you in-person pointers. Public speaking is easy for me. Mingling with strangers is tougher. Please stop me and say hi! I promise, you’ll make my day!
Tracy Weber is the author of the award-winning Downward Dog Mysteries series featuring yoga teacher Kate Davidson and her feisty German shepherd, Bella. Tracy loves sharing her passion for yoga and animals in any form possible. Her first book, Murder Strikes a Pose won the Maxwell Award for Fiction and is a 2015 Agatha award nominee for Best First Novel. The second book in her series, A Killer Retreat, was released January, 2015 by Midnight Ink.
Tracy and her husband live in Seattle with their challenging yet amazing German shepherd Tasha. When she’s not writing, Tracy spends her time teaching yoga, walking Tasha, and sipping Blackthorn cider at her favorite ale house.
Visit her at TracyWeberAuthor.com, friend her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tracywe, or e-mail her at Tracy@WholeLifeYoga.com.