Public Speaking: a Necessary Evil

by on March 5th, 2013
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Unless your name is Stephen King, and you get a huge advance and sell millions of books, there isn’t much money in having a book published. That’s so important that I’m going to say it again. There isn’t much money in having a book published! Your royalties are merely a pittance. Add to that the fact that you only get a royalty check two to three times a year, and you can quickly see why most writers don’t give up their day jobs.

I’ve met a lot of authors through various writers’ groups, conferences, book signings, and other venues. Every author I’ve met agrees: the real money lies in the speaking engagements. That’s what you, as an author, should be doing if you want to make money with your writing. That is, unless you’re content to merely pass out your books to friends and relatives or equally content just to see your name on the front of a book. Don’t laugh, you would be surprised at the number of authors I’ve met who feel that way. That’s enough for them. They want nothing to do with publicity or speaking to any size group of people.

“But, but,” you say. “I want to make money. I just can’t get up in front of people and talk. I’m shy!”

First let me say, there is no one reading this article who is, or was, any more terrified of public speaking than I was ten years ago. When I was a child, I was so shy that I would cross a street because I saw someone I knew in the distance walking towards me. I was afraid I might have to say ‘hello’ to them and I bolted. As the years passed, that did get a little better, but I digress…

When my first children’s book was published in 2000, I was living in New Hampshire. The press release went to newspapers around the country and, of course, it was in our local paper. As a result, for my very first paid public appearance, I was asked to speak to a PTA group in an auditorium on the evening before my very first school visit at the same elementary school.

I was excited to have been invited, and even more excited that I was going to be paid for it. But neither of those things mattered, once I peeked through the curtains from backstage and saw the packed auditorium. I had a total meltdown. I was more terrified than I had ever been in my life. Then someone said something that turned everything around for me. This is what I want to share with you. I think it will help put things in a different perspective for you, just as it did for me.

After peeking through the curtain from backstage, I ran to the ladies room and threw up. After my second trip to the ladies room for the same reason, my then husband asked how I was doing. I told him there was NO WAY I was going to be able to speak to that huge group of people! I told him I was going to back out, give the people in charge my apologies, and go home where I belonged. I said, for one thing, there was so much combined education sitting in that auditorium that even Einstein would feel outclassed. Who the hell was I? What possessed me to think I had anything worthwhile to say to a group of educators, let alone the parents, whose children I would be speaking to the next day?

My husband gripped my shoulders firmly and shook me, mid-sentence. He lifted my face up by my chin, looked me squarely in the eye, and told me I could do this. He said anyone can speak to a group of people, no matter how large the friggin’ group is, IF they are the expert on the subject they’re going to talk about. He said, “Cath’, you wrote the damned book! You, alone, are the expert on your book! I’ll tell you something else. You’re worried about all of the combined education out there. Well let’s get something else straight. You’ve done something that they haven’t done. You wrote a book, found a publisher, and you are a children’s author. You’re looking at it ass-backwards! You envy their combined education and college degrees. Well, they envy your writing talent and what you’ve accomplished. Now, buck up! Get out there and put a smile on your face! Be the expert you are and talk about your book!”

It was amazing. I suddenly saw it from a new perspective. I did an about-face in how I saw things from that minute on. As I was being introduced, I took a deep breath and walked out onto the stage. I could feel the adrenalin start to pump. I put a smile on my face and, as I looked out into that sea of faces, I saw that they were smiling, too. I never had so much fun as I did the night I spoke to that PTA group.

Now I love public speaking and, in the dozen or so years I’ve been doing it, I’ve found that I’m even somewhat of a ham, especially with the students during my school visits and poetry workshops. There’s only one downside to it. The adrenalin rush is incredibly addicting and It isn’t long before I start to crave my next speaking engagement.

If this article has helped even one other author get over their fear of public speaking, then it was worth writing. I want all of you to feel the same rush that comes from talking about your book. Don’t forget, YOU are the expert. Oh, and smile! It’s a tremendous ice-breaker with a crowd. I wish you success.

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