Public Speaking: 4 Circles of Fear

Speaking at a Christmas time author eventOne of the scariest things for many authors is public speaking and public reading of their work, but it is a necessary skill for the author toolbox. I am no exception to this fear—I hate being out in front of people. Since my book came out almost 2 years ago, however, I have had to deal with this issue, and I have learned quite a bit about myself and being center stage.

For me, there are 4 circles of fear when it comes to public speaking/reading:

  1. Reading
  2. Panels
  3. Speaking
  4. School Visits

Speaking at my book launch in 2015I’m not too bad with the reading. As the mom of a 7-year-old who loves books, I have had many years experience reading aloud, and my daughter assures me that I am “the best reader ever.” When reading my own words, I get excited because I can read them as I meant them to be read, rather than how the reader might interpret them in their own heads. Reading has the added advantage that I am, well, reading, so I don’t have to worry about forgetting what I’m supposed to be saying.

The idea of panels made me very nervous at first. After all, they weren’t scripted, and often you don’t know the questions ahead of time. As an anxiety-ridden individual, the idea of not coming in fully prepared shook me deeply. My very first panel ever was at my high school alma mater, where I sat onstage with 4 other alumnae authors and faced some 500 girls and their teachers. And you know what? I enjoyed it. Being up there with other authors meant I was not the sole focus of attention—I could “relax” while others were talking. And I didn’t have to carry the entire weight of the conversation—I could bounce off what another panelist said, not always be the original thinker. I am a writer who enjoys collaboration, and in many ways a panel is a synergistic collaborative effort.

Public speaking solo is another story. Now we are moving past trepidation into panic attack areas. However, thanks to a mandatory semester of Speech class in high school, I can give a good speech. When I have time to prepare and practice, I can not only get through a speech without a meltdown, but give the audience an enjoyable presentation. An extemporaneous solo speech, on the other hand…

Speaking at a writing workshopFinally, we have school visits, which are awkward for me because they land somewhere between a speech and a performance. While I can give a speech, I am not much of a performer. My skill set is in being invisible, not in keeping people riveted to what I am saying. My single experience in teaching a workshop was rewarding but did not do much to bolster my confidence.  I have not yet done a school visit, and frankly, the thought of doing one terrifies me. My greatest fear is that the kids will get bored. After all, I do not consider myself all that interesting—imposter syndrome rearing its head. When I finally break that last barrier, I will tell you how it goes!

I have found that the more casual the encounter, the more at ease I am. I enjoy chatting with the kids, because the kids that come up to speak to me are already interested and engaged. Perhaps the key is to make even the more formal occasions seem casual.

What I’ve learned so far is that usually my intense fear is unfounded. So go through those circles of fear confident that you will emerge stronger and with a new skill in your author toolbox.






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