I can’t rightly say I’ve ever met anyone who says they love public speaking.
I know plenty of folks who say they love to talk, but does anyone actually enjoy standing up in front of a group of strangers (or even colleagues and friends and family) and becoming the center of attention?
On May 7, I’ll be doing a public speaking event at the Toronto PublicLibrary’s Annette Street Branch as part of Asian Heritage Month. This will only be the second time I’ve done anything like this, as an author or otherwise.
The first time I gave a speech was at Harlequin Distribution Center in Buffalo, New York. I was asked to speak as part of their customer appreciation day. I only had to speak for ten minutes, but I spent about a month preparing what I’d say, gnashing my teeth over how I’d fill ten minutes without boring people to tears.
This time, I’ll be asked to fill an hour.
I’m not sure how anyone can be engaging, informative and entertaining for any longer than it takes to tell a three men walk into a bar joke (the punch line is “OW!”). Frankly, I’m surprised I can even walk and talk at the same time—my tongue tends to trip over itself in its haste to catch up with my brain, and that usually translates to total catastrophic failure of the rest of my muscle coordination. I become a living Muppet, arms flailing, mouth flapping wide.
I suppose part of my nervousness comes from the fact that I’m a bit of an introvert. Many authors are. We’re better suited to expressing ourselves on paper where we can edit our words and retract stupidity. I can’t do that in real life. I stick my foot in my mouth so often, my tongue’s been paved with asphalt and there are jogging trails marked with signs.
I’m not sure I know how to give a speech without a script. The tricky thing about writing it out, though, is that just like dialog, I don’t tend to speak the way I write. I use strings of long words in writing that perfectly convey what I’m trying to get across. But then I tried saying “my passive acceptance of social grouping was affected by my unintentional cultural bias” out loud and promptly ended up face-first on the ground after tripping on my tongue.
So I had to follow my own writing rules when it came to talking:
- Use small words.
- It’s okay to have lots of short sentences.
- Be natural.
Easier said than done.
An hour is a long time to fill, too. I’ll have to force myself to talk slowly, and maybe fill the gaps with long drinks of water. I’m hoping people have lots of questions for the Q and A, as well, because with a ten-minute reading, I have no idea how to fill fifty minutes.
Do you have any suggestions or tips on how to survive public speaking engagements? Got any great stories to share? Ever put your foot in your mouth in public? Share in the comments below!