I make my debut author talk this Friday, January 22nd, at the library where I work as a librarian. Since I was scheduled to speak, I’ve been a nervous wreck. I realize most authors and first-time speakers experience this fear. Here are some tips I discovered for easing my discomfort and that will hopefully result in a less anxious presentation.
Knowing that it’s best to talk naturally and interact with an audience, I didn’t write an entire speech. Instead, I prepared an outline with flexible discussion points and some simple questions I could ask for feedback from the audience. Since I’ll be talking about the publishing process and then reading excerpts from my book, A STONE’S THROW, after I thank the person introducing me and the people attending for coming to hear me speak, I plan to ask who is there to learn more about publishing. This question can be answered by raising a hand. I will then follow it up by asking who is interested in hearing about my book. Finally, I will attempt to find out if anyone is there for another reason. With these type of questions, I get to feel the audience out and also see where to focus my talk.
When preparing the outline for my presentation, I’ve arranged to display slides to correspond to each point of my talk. I was lucky to have the library’s computer technician’s help in setting up some of my book teaser graphics and Tips for Publishing notecard into Powerpoint slides. The library also recently invested in a wireless microphone, so speakers could walk around the room and not be tied to the podium. This will make it easier to interact with the audience.
My outline is flexible and can be adjusted as I talk. I plan to leave room after each part of the talk for audience questions. Beforehand, I will arrange a table with handouts, a display of my books, and raffle tickets where those attending may enter their names to win an autographed copy of A STONE’S THROW. I will choose a winner at the end of the presentation. I’m also asking those who enter the raffle to include their email addresses if they’d like to be kept up-to-date on my upcoming books and appearance schedule.
Since I’ve put a lot of preparation and thought into how I will present my talk and the way the room will be set up, this will alleviate some of my fears. Another way that I am trying to reduce the stress and jitters of speaking before a group, a fear that I’ve learned is quite common for everyone, is by taking the advice of those who speak regularly. I’m taking an online Gale Courses public speaking course called MASTERING PUBLIC SPEAKING. I will have only taken a few lessons before my talk, but the instructor’s advice has been helpful so far. In addition, I’ve found several books at my library on the topic including the classic Dale Carnegie books on public speaking.
I have to admit that I won’t be totally relaxed on Friday, but they say that’s normal. Nervousness can be channeled into a productive presentation as long as it doesn’t freeze you up and cause stage fright. Nervous energy can actually help your address. Below are a few tips I’ve picked up in my class, from my readings, and suggestions from others familiar with talking in front of an audience:
- There’s nothing wrong in saying it’s your first time speaking. People will understand and sympathize with you if you let them know. Also, don’t be afraid of making a mistake or missing one of the points in your talk because most people will not notice it except you.
- As you speak, it’s best to maintain eye contact with one person instead of looking out over the entire group. You can select one person from the left, center, and right side of the audience and direct your talk to each of these people individually as you move through your presentation.
- To make your talk more entertaining, you might inject humor into some of the material or your interaction with the audience, but only do this if it comes naturally.
- Don’t rush your talk. Speaking fast can cause stuttering and incoherence. It’s best to speak at a moderate pace. Slow down if you find yourself talking too fast.
- Do a dry run of your talk in the place you will be speaking as close to the date as possible. It’s very important to be familiar with the acoustics and physical set up of the room. It will also make you more comfortable knowing the layout of the space.
If anyone has any additional speaking tips, please comment on them. Fingers crossed I will break a leg at my first author talk. If anyone is local and would like to come support me, I will be speaking at the Hicksville Public Library at 1 pm on Friday, January 22nd.