Even though I used to act professionally, I normally dislike speaking in public. Seems like an oxymoron, right? But, for me, there’s a big difference between acting like an idiot while portraying someone else and actually being an idiot in front of people as yourself.
But, life doesn’t care about your fears and, in order to be a successful author, you must develop relationships with people. And what better way than talking to a bunch of people at the same time? Thanks to my mother-in-law, I had the chance to speak in front of 150 women who, I was told, were not shy about letting you know they weren’t too interested in what you had to say.
As a member of the New Port Richey New Comer’s Club, my mother-in-law let them know of the interesting path I took to become a novelist. That, combined with the fact that I set my first series in a local small town called Safety Harbor, seemed to seal the deal and Cheryl, the club’s speaker scheduler, gave me a call.
Six months later, my speaking engagement date arrived and I sat at a table with a number of fascinating women chatting about their experiences since the last time they met. That’s the one thing people often overlook of those who have lived a long life… they have the best stories.
I met a woman who was born in Russia and grew up in China before it was taken over by the Communists. I talked with another woman who ran a highly successful Tupperware sales force with her husband. Sharing her vast experience, she told me, when it comes to a sales team, you have to keep the water moving. Good people will move upstream while the bad wash away. Those who remain stagnate become like pond scum and need to be washed out.
Good advice. I’ll have to remember that when my sales team is more than just me.
When my time came to speak, I was a bit nervous about standing up in front of this unexpectedly large group, but had prepared about 15 3×5 cards taped inside a notebook, so I could quickly glance at my next subject. That was going to keep me on track. That is, until I heard about the new PA system.
One grateful woman said, “They have a mic you can walk around with. Thank goodness! Now we don’t have to watch people hide behind a podium for their entire talk.”
I cringed. I was planning on hiding behind that podium.
So, I changed plans. Everyone loves a good story and my speech was really a bunch of interesting stories about my journey to being a novelist and the influences that guide me. Basically, I was talking about my life. I shouldn’t need 3×5 cards to tell that. I grabbed the mic and walked around the room, winging it, occasionally drifting back to the podium to see how far off course I had gone. To keep them interested, I also printed out a few pictures that I used as a sort of show and tell.
When it was all over, I was told that was the quietest they had been in a very long time. I’m assuming that was a good thing. Later, I was humbled to hear feedback that they thought I was “witty, charming and personable.” So, I didn’t put them to sleep. Good to know.
Afterwards I had a book signing and sold nearly all of the novels I brought with me, enjoying the immediate feedback from the attendees, hearing how they connected with either the subjects of my novels or the journey I took to start writing. Real people are so much more interesting than those in novels.
Overall, it was a great experience and I can’t wait for the next opportunity.