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.






My First Teaching Experience

20160705_115143_1467854642723_resizedAt the time of this post, I am teaching my second day of Build Your Own Story workshops at a local day camp. I will freely admit that I never wanted to be a teacher. I haven’t the temperament for it, nor the calling. While I have been told I am a good teacher, I find that true mostly in one-on-one situations. Put me in front of a group, and I get the jitters.

This is a reflection of my own weaknesses—I am an introvert, and I hate being the center of attention. Of course, as most teachers know, there are always some kids who are not paying attention to you, and that makes it worse. When I feel like I am not connecting with my audience, I wonder what I am doing wrong, how am I failing them?

20160705_105856_1467854645496_resizedPerhaps I am not doing anything wrong, but simply have to find ways to engage the kids better. In my first teaching experience, I taught (separately), 1st/2nd graders, 3rd graders, and 4th graders (I have the 5th/6th graders today). The 1st-3rd grade classes were fun—the kids were eager, they had ideas, they wanted to be heard. And since I have a 6-year-old, I could relate easily to them.

The 4th grade class was harder. About half the class actively participated, the rest sat and watched silently. At least they were polite and didn’t talk through the class. And a few of them sparked up a bit by the end. Truthfully, I think I panicked when they didn’t all seem eager and turned the class into more of a lecture than a participatory event, which may have caused them to further withdraw.

20160705_105844_1467854647348_resizedI am going to try something different with the 5th/6th grade today. A Jigsaw Story. Once we discuss the 5 basic story elements, I will break them up into 4 groups, and give each group a few minutes to come up with one of the first 4 elements—without knowing what the other groups are thinking. Then we will put what I hope will be 4 wildly incompatible and therefore funny elements on the board and strive to make a coherent Plot out of them. At least it will get them talking and being social and hopefully help loosen them up. We’ll see.

The experience so far has been a rewarding one. My most memorable moment came when I had finished with the 1st graders and one little boy started to cry. I asked why he was crying and his friend told me that he was sad because he had not gotten to write his own story about lions and tigers (today they get to write their own stories). So I got down on his level and asked him to tell me his story.

I had to ask a few leading questions, but in just minutes his hands were no longer covering his face and the tears had dried. His story spilled out of him (and it was a good story, too!), and his passion and eagerness wiped away the disappointment. To me, this was a pure lesson in the power of story. All this little boy wanted was to share his story. For his voice to be heard.

On the whole, my first experience teaching kids has been a good one. The kids have been creative and eager and I hope I can learn from them how to be a better teacher.






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