Tag Archives: public speaking

See the Gal with the Stage-Fright…

At the weekend, I gave my first public reading. Of my actual work. In front of actual people, who were not related to me. Well, one was related to me by marriage, but you know what I mean.

Image: edwardboches.com

Image: edwardboches.com

This all came about because I was asked to read at a book fair (which was extremely generous of the organisers) a few weeks ago; my instinct, when the email came through, was to run a mile in the opposite direction. Thankfully, though, my husband and other family members calmed me down and got me to see sense.

‘Take every opportunity that comes,’ they said. ‘You big eejit,’ they may have added.

After a few moments’ panicked thinking, I realised they were right.

I still felt a flutter of nerves as I replied to the organisers’ email, though, and I quivered a bit as I chose the piece I was going to read, and as I read it over and over in preparation. It was a familiar story, one of my own favourites, and one which I thought would suit the audience and occasion. I made myself as ready as I could get, and then I did my best to forget about it and stop worrying.

That worked for a while.

As the time drew nearer, the nerves grew stronger. I saw the stage, and the microphone, and the other performers and readers and how excellent they were. My little story, far from being the reasonable piece of work I’d been happy to share, started to look like a jumble of words which had no meaning. The person who read before me was animated, entertaining, eccentric and extremely memorable – and I was just a gal with stage-fright and a few sheets of stapled-together paper, blinking.

I did it, though. Nobody died. I got a small ripple of applause and some polite smiles. I only made one flub that I can remember (mixing up the word ‘eyes’ with ‘ears’, which – in the context – turned a very profound moment into a hilarious one) and I didn’t babble. In fact, I may have gone too slowly, which is definitely a first. When I get nervous I tend to suffer from verbal and mental diahorrea (apologies for the image) and I’ve been told, all through my life, to keep things slow when I’m speaking in public.

For this reading, of course, wasn’t my first public speaking engagement – I used to be a college lecturer, if you recall. So why was getting up and reading one of my own short stories – ten or fifteen minutes, max. – so much scarier than lecturing a couple of hundred college kids for nearly an hour?

Well. When you’re lecturing, the audience sort of has to be there. Not that a university takes attendance, but the students have a reason for coming to the lectures – i.e., to pass the course. The people who came to hear me read didn’t have to be there. They were coming to hear me out of kindness, or interest, or possibly because they had no other plans for those few moments. That immediately makes you feel a burden of responsibility. I owe these people a few minutes’ entertainment, you can’t help telling yourself. They’ve made the effort to come and sit here, listening to me – the least Ive got to do is make it worth their while. So, not the most relaxing way to think.

Image: theguardian.com

Image: theguardian.com

Not that my audience was anything like Statler and Waldorf, of course – they were lovely. But when you’re the one behind the microphone, your mind tends to go to funny places.

Also, when you’re lecturing, the audience has a sort of grudging respect for you, most of the time. I know I did, when I was a student – I always felt that the lecturer knew more than I did about whatever topic was under discussion, and even if they weren’t able to tie their shoelaces or put their clothes on the right way out in real life (both of these things did happen to lecturers of mine), they were still an authority figure in the lecture theatre. It cuts down on the nerves a little when you know that the people listening to you are going to assume you’re worth listening to; it makes you believe it, too.

And, finally, there’s a huge difference in performing a lecture – even when it’s something you wrote and sweated over and rehearsed, and into which you really worked to include anecdotes and interesting details and attention-grabbing facts – and in reading a story which came from your heart. A lecture tells the listeners about the stuff you love; a story tells your audience who you are.

Anyway. I stood up there, and I gave it all my might. I made my husband proud, and that’s enough for me. I did accents for my various characters (or tried to, at least); I put some effort into making my fictional people sound different, and unique, and real. Reading the story aloud gave me a new appreciation for it, and that in itself made the whole thing worthwhile.

And the organisers have asked me back to read next year, so I can’t have been that bad.

Approaching the Event Horizon

April is nearly over. May is nearly here. That means a few things, of course, not all of them scary and new; it means there’s likely to be more of this sort of thing, which is good:

Image: paleohappy.com

Image: paleohappy.com

And people will, more than likely, start to wear stuff like this (even though, in Ireland, just because the sun’s out doesn’t actually mean it’s warm, but we’re eternally optimistic – a sort of ‘if you wear it, summer will come’ thing):

Image: lukitaslittleworld.blogspot.com

Image: lukitaslittleworld.blogspot.com

Sadly, it also means a lot of people will be going around looking like they’ve been dipped in boiling oil, too, because – while the sun’s not particularly strong here, unless things are exceptionally warm – the Irish pelt just isn’t equipped to cope with anything much beyond a vaguely bright afternoon.

But, on a personal level, the approach of May means a few different things.

Firstly, it’s going to be a busy month for me. As well as attending two conferences (at one of which I’ve been given the opportunity to pitch my book to an agent), I am also going to be giving a reading at a book festival. On top of all that, I’ve decided that now would be a good time to branch out into a new business venture. It’s official. I’ve ordered business cards, and everything.

What’s that silence? Oh, don’t worry. It’s just my quietly controlled panic.

Secondly, it’s a month full of new stuff. I’ve never given a reading before, for instance – the very idea of it seems slightly ridiculous, as if someone, somewhere, has made a terrible mistake and is expecting Sinéad O’Connor instead of me, or something.

FYI: not me. Image: thetimes.co.uk

FYI: not me.
Image: thetimes.co.uk

Actually, there’s an idea. Perhaps if I pretend I am Sinéad O’Connor, it might make the whole thing easier – and more enjoyable for the audience. I’m sure I could belt out a few verses of ‘Mandinka’ before being manhandled off the stage.

The next challenge is to write and memorise a ten-minute pitch for my book. Delivering this in front of a mirror, or my mother, will be scary enough. Delivering it in front of a top-notch literary agent, however – that’s a whole new level of terror. What if I forget how to talk? Maybe my mind will become a field of pristine snow, unblemished even by the tiny pock-marks of foraging birds. Perhaps my teeth will chatter so hard that everything I say will come out all chopped up, like baby food.

Maybe I’d be better off printing the whole thing out on laminated paper and giving it to the agent to read. You know, in her own time.

Image: emeryruth.com

Image: emeryruth.com

Yeah. Or maybe not.

The second conference I’m attending is less nerve-wracking, mainly because I don’t have to do anything, per se; I just have to be outgoing and friendly and approachable and all that other stuff that sounds easy (and which, in truth, I’m good at, once I stop tripping myself up). When I’m surrounded by people I consider important, though – in the sense of ‘oh my God look it’s a famous published author I must scuttle out of her way forthwith’ – I find it difficult to be my happy-go-lucky self. I think I need to take a large dose of ‘Get On With It’ before I enter the room, and go in wearing my widest, brightest smile.

Easier said than done.

And finally, the business venture. Well, calling it that probably lends it an air of importance that it doesn’t really deserve; it’s not like I’m going to be appearing on ‘Dragons’ Den’ looking for funding for my ingenious invention, or anything like that. If you’d like to find out more about it, there’s a website over here – you can even sign up to follow it, if you like – and there’s a Twitter feed over at @YellowRoadEdit. It’s extremely early days yet, but maybe – with a bit of luck – I’ll be able to use my talent for words to help those who don’t find it easy to pick just the right phrase to express what they mean, or who aren’t as clear on the rules of apostrophe usage as I am.

Or who aren’t as pernickety about the rules of apostrophe usage as I am, maybe.

So, I have a lot going on. By the end of this month I’ll have neither fingernails nor a strand of hair left, and I’ll probably be living in a vat of caffeine. If you have any good wishes knocking about that you’re not using for anything else, it’d be brilliant if you could send ’em my way.

Welcome to a shiny new week, everyone. May it be fabulous for one and all.

Image: hellogiggles.com

Image: hellogiggles.com