I’m one of those people who can talk to anybody—at least for a few minutes—and given my background as a freelance writer/journalist, I can also sound reasonably intelligent on a wide variety of unrelated subjects. So you’d think someone who’s comfortable chatting with perfect strangers would think nothing of getting up and speaking in front of a group of them.
Wrong. Maybe it goes back to my first public speaking experience. Grade 6. My assigned topic was Sir Isaac Newton, the scientist who discovered gravity, among other things. If I’d been more flamboyant and had a better memory, I might have come prepared with an apple for a prop, and memorized my speech. Instead, I stood at the front of the class with my carefully printed index cards, and mumbled my way through the words, never once making eye contact with the “audience.” My only consolation was Herbie (last name withheld to protect the innocent—or is that the guilty?), who, poor lad, was even more dismal than me. I don’t remember what Herbie’s topic was, but I do remember him standing there wearing lederhosen (seriously, what kind of parents send their 12-year-old son to public school in lederhosen?), his snot-filled nose dripping like a tap, and his left foot lifting up and stomping back down to the ground after every sentence.
Thankfully, I’ve always picked professions that didn’t require presentations. Credit and collections manager. Sales and marketing coordinator. Freelance writer. Editor. Writer.
You’re probably thinking that I should have realized that authors often make presentations and participate in author readings and events, and I probably did. But that didn’t make me want to do it.
My first experience was at Bouchercon 2015, Raleigh, NC, where I had 6o seconds to pitch my book at the Debut Author’s Breakfast. I wasn’t flawless, but at least I made eye contact!
My second experience was at the Wasaga Beach Public Library, where I shared an event with author Timothy Weatherall. Tim does presentations as part of his day job, and was brilliant. I was much less so and in fact, chickened out and had the librarian read for me. It was while she was reading that I knew that in future I would have to suck it up and do it myself. To have someone else read for me just didn’t cut it.
Fast forward to Thursday, January 28th, where, as a member of Crime Writers of Canada, I was invited to the Ontario Library Association Superconference in Toronto. There, 20 members of CWC would have the opportunity to pitch our book to the 50+ librarians in attendance—in two minutes or less. Vicki Delany, president of CWC, was the moderator with a timing trumpet. Anyone who ran over was summarily given the horn.
I wrote my blurb. Practiced it in front of Gibbs, my three-month-old Golden Retriever. Thought up reasons why I’d have to bail at the last minute (flu? bad cold? family emergency?). But Thursday morning came, I made my way to the GO Train station, and headed into the city. After all, there was an Expo, other authors to meet and greet with. This was a tremendous opportunity, and I had to seize it.
Thankfully, Vicki Delany slotted me mid-pack, so I had an opportunity to observe others. Many authors, among them Gail Bowen, Janet Bolin and Rosemary McCracken offered encouragement. And Vaughn Thurman, the branch manager at my local library in Alliston, was in the audience cheering me on.
I wasn’t perfect, and I did have to read some of it (still don’t have that memorizing thing down), but I can honestly say I didn’t feel nervous once I got going. Rosemary tells me that one day I’ll get to the point where I’ll have fun with it. Not sure if that will ever be the case, but one thing is certain: Gibbs is in for a lot more readings. And I’m never going to write or speak about about Sir Isaac Newton again.
Coming Friday, February 19th: An interview with Lourdes Venard, editor, and author of Publishing for Beginners. Lourdes will discuss common pitfalls that most beginning writers make, and how to avoid them.
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