So you’ve forked some lighting. Published a book. Written a script that got produced. Had a story adapted as a film and also as musical (shameless plus for Sweet Land ). You did something that some group –teachers, librarians, historians, art reviewers, journalists –loves, and so they invite you to come talk to them.
Ideally this happens incrementally. You build up your public speaking chops gradually. Over time. But that’s hardly ever the case. It’s more like this: you’ve spent two years laboring on your project mostly in solitude. Just you, writing. Private, dogged work–that suddenly hits with a splash and therefore proves that there’s a God of Hard Work. And now, suddenly, you get invitations to speak.
These will range from keynoting large conventions to appearing at book clubs in someone’s living room (most always before a group of mature women). It’s like Ground Hog’s Day: you come up from your hole, blinking at bright daylight, and suddenly it’s, “Please Welcome [your name here].” The mic is hot. You’re on.
I’ve been there, and I have a few tips that might help you when your time hits. But MIGHT is the key word here, because you have to develop your own approaches to public speaking. However, the list below include sure-fire tips on getting your public presenter chops:
- Don’t buy new clothes. Or wear clothes that hang in your closet but you don’t often wear. The goal is to be comfortable on stage. Don’t overdress, don’t underdress. Wear clothes that you don’t have to think about. (Be aware of clothes/colors/patterns that show best on tv or in photos. Read up on this. Patterns, for example, are a no-no.)
- At the venue get there early to check out the stage, the acoustics, the mic well before the audience arrives. You might well end up arranging chairs, and no shame in that.
- Mics: if there’s ANY question as to whether you need one, you do.
- Have a fully or mostly rehearsed opening line or two. It’s terribly easy to fumble your way into your speech, and it can be hard to recover from that. Have something like “Good evening. It’s great to be here before this group of librarians–but also a little scary. I once stole a library book.”
- Not saying (#5) you have to be comedian. Just saying that you need an authoritative opening of some kind. This will give you confidence going forward.
- SPEAK SLOWLY. Add that note in big-ass letters to your speech notes, on your hand, etc.
- The bigger the audience, the slower . . . you . . . should . . . speak. The slower you speak, the wiser and more authoritative you sound.
- Acoustics. If you address that person in the back row farthest from you, you will then cover everyone in between. Any question about acoustics? Ask the audience if they all can hear. They’ll appreciate your empathy.
- Have a fully, or mostly rehearsed conclusion or last line. It’s terribly easy to just peter out. Don’t do that.
- Remember: the people in the audience have given you the gift of their time. Try to reward them by making the remarks at least somewhat ABOUT THEM. Yes, it’s about you, your new book, etc.. But make sure you intersect with their hopes, dreams, situations. Try to include “We” and “You” licks, rather than “I” unendingly. You’ll be a hero for that. There are lots more tips, large and small (keep a lozenge, unwrapped in your pocket), but you’ll learn those soon enough. If there’s one larger thing to keep in mind, it’s this: every speaking gig is serious and demands your full powers. You’ve been given a rare opportunity. Treat it accordingly.
Below, me doing a commencement. It was windy and about forty degrees, so I wore my Twins cap. Why not, right? And you–you can do this too. Be prepared. Be yourself. Break a leg.