Monday, October 5, 2009

Some Thoughts on Public Speaking

Salle Pleyel--1928--by Andre Devambez Five years ago, public speaking was a dreaded, but necessary, horror for me. You’d have had to shoot me with a tranquilizer dart and prop me up at the lectern to prevent me from looking like I was about to pop out of my skin. If you’d looked up the phrase ‘nervous wreck,’ it would’ve pictured me for illustration.

Nowadays I’m speaking in public so often that the biggest danger is that I look bored. Frequently, I am bored! If you’ve been listening to someone repeatedly give the same spiel, as I’ve listened to myself, then boredom does set in.

This past summer, Helen Ginger did a great series on public speaking at the Blood Red Pencil blog with a lot of wonderful tips.

I have a few tips of my own, learned the hard way.

Bring water. Sometimes the venue organizer will provide it, but more often they’re so busy that they don’t think about it. I’ve had coughing fits before and just had to get up and leave. (I’m sure SWINE FLU!) was going through everyone’s mind.

Bring money. If you’re speaking in a library or to an organization (and are selling books), bring lots of ones and fives. I’ve forgotten to bring money to several of mine and when the people asked if I had change, I said, “No. But what do you have?” Bartering at its finest.

Arrive early. I don’t like surprises and events are very different from each other: with microphones, without mikes, standing, sitting, sharing your time with other writers…it’s just good to know what’s expected of you before your talk starts.

Arriving early also puts me more at ease. If I meet people as they arrive to listen to me, I feel a lot more comfortable talking to them later.

Watch eyes and faces. They’ll let you know if you’re getting too boring. If I signs of sleepiness, I’ll change my talk’s course.

Too short is better than too long. Notice when you’re starting to ramble. This can be a symptom of being too comfortable with public speaking, but there’s also a nervous rambling that happens with newbie public speakers…I did it whenever I lost my train of thought or forgot what the original question was. Now I just wrap up my segment quickly when I feel blah blah blahs coming on.

Have fun. Be funny. Those in attendance are so appreciative if we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

How about everyone else? Any good tips to share?

Elizabeth Spann Craig
Pretty is as Pretty Dies—Aug. 2009


Suzanne Adair said...

Tip to share: involve the audience. This keeps that same old topic from becoming really boring by injecting little doses of fresh material. At every speaking engagement, people in the audience have something unique to contribute. You learn from this interaction as much as they do.

Suzanne Adair

Ingrid King said...

Great advice - printing it out. Public speaking is something that takes me way out of my comfort zone, but I'll be doing a lot of it now that my book is about to be published, so I'll take all the helpful hints I can get from the pros!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Think you covered the basics! Yes, always need water. Hosts don't always remember to provide this.

And don't forget your notes!

T. Powell Coltrin said...

Great info. I train staff on technology. All of these items are true and "practice makes perfect", I think. I love public speaking.

I knew I had arrived when I heard a teacher say to someone, "She's so funny, I love coming to her trainings".

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth -
You have some great advice! I agree that it really helps to bring change; those little details just make the whole process easier. Here are my tips:

Don't be in a hurry to leave. Often, audience members want to personally meet the author, and it's in those personal interactions that one build goodwill - and readership.

Ask the audience questions - even rhetorical ones. It keeps the audience involved and engaged.

When doing a reading, choose a suspenseful part of the book before the reading and stop right at the "good part." That has a way of "hooking" listeners. In fact, I did that at one reading and a woman came up afterwards and said, "Now I *have* to buy the book."

Thanks for making me think about how to connect with audiences.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Suzanne--Great point. After all, if I'm bored with myself, it's harder to make it interesting for my audience. Questions always bring in a new and different angle.

Ingrid--Congrats on your upcoming release! It probably just takes 3 or 4 appearances before it gets much easier.

Diane--Oh my goodness...the notes. Yes, I've forgotten those before and couldn't remember where the heck I was trying to go with my segment!

Journaling Woman--You're a pro, then! If you're talking about technology, I bet everyone is really appreciative that you've made it funny and interesting.

Margot--Wonderful advice! I especially like your tip about sticking around. I frequently am thinking about the time and the need to get back to my family and kids. Great point that the end is when the sales actually happen! :)

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Great ideas, Elizabeth. Since I'm up tomorrow, I'll add what I've learned to this then...Thanks for the subject suggestion!

Terry Odell said...

I try to bring handouts, even if it's just an "about the author" page, but if I'm addressing a topic, I like to give them something about it. And it keeps my name (and website) in front of them. Depends on the audience, of course.

I have bookmarks, chapter booklets, postcard flats and ... chocolate.

Suzanne Adair said...

Margot said, 'When doing a reading, choose a suspenseful part of the book before the reading and stop right at the "good part." That has a way of "hooking" listeners. In fact, I did that at one reading and a woman came up afterwards and said, "Now I *have* to buy the book."'

Yessss! I've done that and had the same thing happen. When there's enough time, I read a suspenseful scene from the beginning of the book and follow it with a suspenseful scene closer to the end of the book. It shows the audience how much worse matters get for my protagonist as the book progresses. Then they're *really* eager to buy the book and find out what happened.

Sneaky, aren't we?

Suzanne Adair

Warren Baldwin said...

Elizabeth -
I think "have fun" is one of the most important. I've taken pub speaking classes where the professor stresses proper posture, enunciation, etc. You can do all of that and be so stiff and to seem almost lifeless. But, if you have fun, even if you unconsciously violate some of the rules (like putting your hands in your pocket, saying 'mmm' a time or two), if you are having fun the audience will pick up on that and connect with you.

Water is now a big one for me, since I've been having throat/vocal chord trouble. Almost never speak without water now. Plus, if my mouth is try I tend to mispronounce words. Had an embarassing moment a few years ago b/c of that!

Good suggestions here.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Joanna--Oh cool! I'll look forward to your post tomorrow.

Terry--Handouts are awesome! Forgot to mention those. Because who's going to remember our info later unless they have a handout or a bookmark? Chocolate always helps, too. :)

Suzanne--I don't like to do readings. :( But I'll take yours and Margot's advice and come prepared in case I'm asked to.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Warren--Thanks so much for popping by!

You're absolutely right about a relaxed posture--much more engaging than watching someone stiffly recite something.

I'm with you on the water. I don't know what's been wrong with my throat lately, but I have no voice at all.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Great advice from all!

I do a lot of public speaking and one of the things I try to do is incorporate at least one reference that might be unique to the group - such as a local news item, esp. if it's funny or ties in with mystery.

Also, I try to find out the demographics of the group I'm speaking to beforehand. If it's a fun group having a dinner meeting with booze, I'm likely to include some semi-adult jokes in my presentation. If it's a more business-like meeting or a women's group or library meeting, it's more straight laced but still infused with appropriate humor. Know your audience!

I totally agree with coming early and sticking around after. It's crucial not to appear that you are taking the group for granted.

Dress appropriately. This one is tougher for me since I tend to be a very casual person, but I'll dress up more for professional organizations. However, don't dress overly stuffy for a very casual event. You want your audience to think you're one of them.

If you do well, it will lead to other invitations. Event planners talk and you want them talking about you - in a good way.

KK Brees said...

Pick up the water glass, stare at it with concern, and ask the audience, "Wouldn't this be a great way to commit murder?"

Anonymous said...

Involving the audience is a must, especially if you run too fast. This is a problem for some speakers. They lose track of time and finish a one hour lecture in twenty minutes. I love to find two opposing parties in the audience and get them going at the same time should the lecture begin to go south for whatever reason.

Steve Tremp

Elspeth Futcher said...

Over the years I learned the value of the pause, the smile and eye contact. All help to draw your audience into your speech and help them believe you are talking to them as individuals not one big mass of people.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Sue Ann--These are wonderful tips! I love your idea of tailoring your talk to the specific group..and even using newsy tie-ins for material.

Karen--Too funny! I've had groups tease me when I'm at foodie gatherings (poisons, you know!) :)

Stephen--That's a good game plan! I try to keep an eye on the time so I don't go too fast or too slow.

Elspeth--I'm just feeling like I'm getting the knack of the pause. I think it would be VERY useful. Great reminder to work it into my delivery.

joe doaks-Author said...

Terry stole my thunder…handouts. I love ‘em and it kinda keeps the listeners grounded in who I am, where I’m going, and what the heck I’m gonna say, or trying to say. Dunno if it was mentioned, but, I also like to include a giveaway that includes the audience participating in one way or another.

Best Regards, Galen

Imagineering Fiction Blog

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Galen--I think a giveaway sounds great! I guess a drawing? Or maybe a contest of some kind? Hmm....I'll be mulling that one over.

Jemi Fraser said...

Awesome advice! I'm getting better at speaking in public. As a kid I was incredibly shy, but as a teacher, I've had to "get over" it - at least on the outside. :)