Autumn is one of our favourite times of year at Behind the Book. Annual “best of” book lists abound, literary awards are bestowed, and the Vancouver Writers Festival brings a host of fantastic talent to town. This year, we took in three great events at the Writers Fest that featured Cherie Dimaline, Patrick deWitt, Gary Shteyngart, Deborah Levy, and more. Each event was a delight to attend and completely engaging in its own way. (If you ever get a chance to go to a deWitt or Shteyngart reading, do so! They had us in stitches.)
But that’s not always the case. As much as we love going to see the writers that we enjoy on the page, they’re not always riveting “on the circuit.” After all, writing is a solitary endeavour, and communicating eloquently in a book doesn’t necessarily mean it’s something you’re comfortable with in a public setting. And yet, promoting your book through launches, readings, and interviews is an integral part of any effective marketing plan. So, what do you do if public speaking is just not your thing?
Fear of speaking in front of groups is a common phenomenon. According to Psychology Today, some people fear public speaking more than death! And even this year’s Word Vancouver festival included a “Performing Your Work” workshop on “the foolproof techniques that veteran authors use to overcome the jitters.” By now we know that imagining your audience in their underwear to alleviate anxiety is a public speaking myth. However, focusing on one or two audience members who are listening with a smile (or at least a modicum interest) will go a long way to making you feel less nervous (another good reason to always invite family and friends to your readings!).
It’s important to remember that no one is judging you, and most people are there to support you. Keep in mind that it’s fans or admirers filling that room to see you, and that will go a long way to building confidence at the mic. And, practise makes perfect. Read your excerpt (again and again) into your mirror, your smartphone, or your tablet (okay, or to your cat). The more you practise your words, the more comfortable you’ll be delivering them “on stage.” If the prospect of speaking in front of a group still makes your stomach turn, join a Toastmasters’ Club, invest in a training course for speakers, or pick up Betsy Graziani Fasbinder’s From Page to Stage: Inspiration, Tools, and Simple Public Speaking Tips for Writers.
The truth is, you’ll regret it if you spend your entire event being nervous instead of celebrating your accomplishment. It does get easier the more you do it, and it also happens to be character building. As self-published author Judy Croome says, “I guarantee from personal experience that, when you walk away from your first book reading, you’ll have a deeper understanding of yourself as both a person and as a writer. And that can only benefit the stories that you write and the books that you sell.”