by Robin Spano
Speaking in public is a tough mountain to climb. Maybe some people are naturals, but not me. Just over a year ago when I signed my first book contract, I couldn’t stand in front of a group of people without freezing up. And I’m not alone – it’s estimated that 75% of people fear public speaking – more than the number of people who fear death.
As a writer, I guess I could have claimed introvert status, hidden in my office writing stories all day long, hoping someone else – reviewers & booksellers – would take an interest in Dead Politician Society and nudge it out into the world. I could have clutched my notes through the readings and public appearances I couldn’t get out of. And I probably would have done just that, had not my savvy agent suggested I join Toastmasters. After 2 events in public, I’m glad I listened.
I literally stared open-mouthed the first three times I was called up to the podium – I froze, I smiled, I sat down. For my first prepared speech, I clutched my notes in terror – I read fast and was relieved when it was over. But over the course of the past year – through trial and error, listening to evaluations, and working carefully through the beginner speaking manual – I’ve come to enjoy my time on stage.
That doesn’t mean I’m a rock star speaker – or that I’m not still terrified. But there’s a pleasure in it now – an edgy excitement that has turned public speaking into an adventure.
My 2 live events this month were very different. I enjoyed both, made mistakes at both, and came out of both ready to go at it again.
Sept. 15th was my first live gig – a book launch at Nicholas Hoare in Toronto. This was amazing. My publisher and the bookstore were warm and supportive, and they created a wonderful space for a party. While I can’t remember a word of what I said – I had to ask if I’d remembered to thank my publicist! – people told me later how lucky it was that I was such a natural at public speaking. Ha! (Whoever said you make your own luck is right on that count!)
Mistakes from the launch – I think I could have slowed down. I could have spoken for longer, fleshed out the speech at the end. And I could use some more practice on impromptu questions – I was nervous for the Q & A, and I don’t think I answered people’s questions as well as I could have.
This came with a giant obstacle – a microphone. I’ve seen people use them – they sound great. But when I started speaking into it, I was shocked by how weird it felt. I mean, I’ve done karaoke, but I’ve always been drunk for it. All my speech practice went out the window as I fumbled my way through the introduction and the reading.
But – because of Toastmasters – I have learned not to freeze, not to give up. I smiled at the crowd, and go figure – they smiled back. After five minutes of terror, I felt my groove picking up. While the strong points of my launch speech were a disaster at Word On The Street, the weaknesses I’d worked on became that day’s strengths. I fleshed out the speech so I chatted at the end about the book and the series. And I focused on giving solid answers to the impromptu questions.
And at the end of the day, I think I learned how to use a microphone.
Richmond Toastmasters has given me a huge gift: Not only have they helped me develop the confidence to speak in public; they have helped me learn how to learn from my mistakes.
My next author event is three weeks from now in San Francisco. I’m sure I’ll be petrified. I’m sure I’ll enjoy it. And I’m sure I will learn something awesome.