Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Speaking Publicy About Public Speaking


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! 

10 comments:

Pamela Hearon said...

I taught school for thirty years and had no trouble filling hours of speaking in front of the students (8th graders) every day. But get me in front of a group of adults and my voice trembles so much it sounds like I'm speaking into a fan (used to do this as a kid for kicks :-) One thing I have learned--know my subject inside and out. If it's something I'm well-versed in and passionate about, the words come even when the brain stalls :-)

kris said...

I suppose whiskey would be counter-productive ...

Snookie said...

LOL, like the whiskey! An hour is a long time, but if you know your subject well and are able to do the talk with notes rather than reading, it will probably help keep people focused on what you are saying. It will also allow you to look around the room. Pick 2 or 3 people scattered through the room and look at them when you're speaking. It will seem as though you're encompassing the whole room. I don't like public speaking much either, but my brother is great at it. He always uses jokes and his hands to illustrate a point. But if you're not comfortable doing that, then don't because it will trip you up. Good luck!

Kate said...

You're a brave woman, Vicki. Public speaking is a torture I've yet to subject myself to. Having said that, knowing your subject inside out will help. A lot. And you know tons about writing, so you'll be fine.

But take a little jig of whiskey, just in case.

linda s said...

My father loved public speaking. One Sunday the minister was caught in a snow storm and the congregation was filling in the service. When it was time for the sermon they asked my dad to speak and he gave a sermon for 45 minutes with no prep at all. Not me, missed that batch of DNA.

Mary Preston said...

I feel ill just at the thought of public speaking. No tips here, but good luck.

tigermobil said...

someone once said if you imagine one of the folks in the audience as not having on any pants you can get over the shakes. Don't know if it works but the only college class I disliked more than math was the public speaking class I took.

Kim Muhl said...

I hate speaking publicly! What gets me though it is pretending I'm talking to a room full of friends. I like the whiskey idea, though. LOL

Anonymous said...

I may be a bit weird but I love public speaking . It is the only way I can express to other what I really want to talk about , cheers Aretha Zhen

Vicki Essex said...

Never tried the imagine everyone naked bit, but maybe whiskey isn't a bad idea...

Thanks for the all help, guys!

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