Evolution of a Speaker: From Wreck to Relaxed

I am not a natural public speaker. As an introvert with an anxiety disorder, being the center of attention is something of a nightmare for me. Yet, I chose the life of an author, and that means public appearances, whether speaking, doing workshops, or hosting book events.

Two weeks ago I spoke to a group of writers in Philadelphia. I am still a new enough author to be a bit bewildered that anyone wants to hear “my journey.” Classic Imposter Syndrome.

However, this group DID want to hear my story. And since I chaperoned a bunch of 6-year-olds at the Please Touch Museum the day before, I didn’t have too much time to over-think things and make myself a nervous wreck (I was much more nervous that I would lose a child at the museum than about the speech). Besides, the topic was my journey as a writer—I’m the expert on that, right?

Author Kerry Gans visitng a Philly Writers Group as a guest speakerSo I gave my speech and it went well. I didn’t turn bright red or faint or forget my name or any of the things I worry about. The audience was attentive and knowledgeable. After my prepared speech, I took questions. And a strange thing happened. I relaxed.

Me, the person who needs to feel in control all the time, relaxed at the very part of the event where I had the least control.

I had mentioned in my speech how nervous I was about public speaking, and afterwards one of the writers said to me, “Don’t worry about being nervous. You did very well, and you were excellent during the question and answer.”

Excellent during the Q&A. Huh. How odd.

I came to realize that at some point in my life, a paradigm shift as a speaker had occurred. Gone were the days where I typed out every word of my speech and memorized it, then scurried offstage as fast as possible after giving it. I now excelled at the very part that used to give me nightmares. An evolution in progress.

I think I have come to enjoy the extemporaneous parts of event work because to me it feels more like one-on-one chatting. Never mind that I am still up in front of a group, I am talking to a single person. That makes a difference in my attitude. And it’s not “a speech.” It’s just talking. My friends and family will tell you that I can talk the ear off corn, so I guess I’m playing to my strength. 🙂

This newfound relaxation with extemporaneous speaking made my next engagement, the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association, a much easier affair. I didn’t dread the chit-chat and the unscripted nature of Author’s Alley. In fact, I had a wonderful time, partly because I enjoyed interacting with the conferees, and partly because I got to hang out with writer friends Donna Galanti and Janice Gable Bashman. We, along with Dianne Salerni, made a formidable team, urging conferees we talked with to see what the others had on offer.







So what does this evolutionary shift as a speaker mean for me? Don’t get me wrong: I will not be running out to do speeches without any notes anytime soon; I will never be truly comfortable in front of an audience; and I will always be anxiety-ridden prior to a presentation. The biggest gift this evolution as a speaker has given me, however, is a sense of freedom. The truth is, I have been dreading–and avoiding–school visits because of their interactive, unscripted, unpredictable nature.

Now I am not.

Oh, I’m sure I will have my share of embarrassing moments, or questions I can’t answer, or answers that get me in hot water. But I feel much more confident that I can meet the challenges of extemporaneous moments with enthusiasm and maybe even grace.

I’m so confident, in fact, that I’ve pitched a workshop for my daughter’s summer camp. Building a story with kids K-8th during a summer camp? Doesn’t get much more free-for-all than that!

How about you? Do you prefer a controlled speech, or an extemporaneous event? Have you experienced evolution as a speaker?

PSLA - Donna Galanti - Lee Harper - Dianne Salerni - Janice Gable Bashman - Jodi Moore - Kerry Gans authors

Top L to R: Donna Galanti, Lee Harper, Dianne Salerni Bottom L to R: Janice Gable Bashman, Jodi Moore, Kerry Gans



  1. My day hour hours has made it hard for me to schedule events – but I’m not a natural speaker. I remember doing a talk on self-publishing once, and that went well. I think my best chances of evolving lies in giving a controlled speech on a topic I know well. Of course, a balloon joke or two always helps.
    Barbara of the Balloons

  2. Good for you, Kerry!


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