Sunday, June 1, 2014

Public Speaking: A Necessary Evil

First School Visit - 2000

“According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two? Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” ~Jerry Seinfeld

Unless you're name is J.K. Rawlings, or 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 and authors don't give up their day jobs.

I've met a lot of authors through various writers' groups and communities, writing conferences, book signings, readings, and other writing venues. Every author that I've met agrees: the real money lies in the speaking engagements. That's what you, as an author/writer, should be doing if you want to make any money with your writing.

That is, unless you're content to merely pass out your books to friends and relatives, or are equally content just see your name printed on a book. Don't laugh, you would be surprised at the number of authors I've met who feel exactly that way. That's enough for them. Period. They want nothing to do with publicity, or speaking to any size group of people.

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

First off, let me assure you, there is no one reading this article who is, or was, any more terrified of public speaking than I was.

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 so afraid I might have to say 'hello' that I bolted. As the years passed, that fear did get a little better, but I digress ...

When my first book of children's poetry was published in 2000, I was living in New Hampshire. The press releases went out to newspapers all around the country and, of course, it was also in our own local papers.

As a result, for my first paid public appearance, I had been invited to speak to a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) group in an auditorium on the evening before my very first school visit at a large local elementary school.

I was excited to have been invited. I was 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. This is what I want to share with you. I think it will help to 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 husband (at the time) asked me how I was doing.

I told him there was no way I was ever going to be able to speak to that huge group of people. I said I was going to back out, give the people in charge my apologies, and then go home where I belonged.

I told him, for one thing, there was so much combined education sitting out there in that auditorium that even Einstein would feel outclassed. Who the heck 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. He lifted my face up to his 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 are the expert on your book! And 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 none of them have done. You wrote a book, found a publisher, and you're a children's book author.

You're looking at it ass-backwards! You envy their combined education and college degrees. Well, Lady, they envy your writing talent, your determination, and what you've accomplished.  Now, BUCK UP!  Get out there, put a smile on your face, and be the expert you are and talk about your book!"

It was amazing, suddenly seeing it from a new perspective. I honestly did an about-face in how I saw things from that minute on.

I took a deep breath and walked out onto the stage as I was being introduced.  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 had never had so much fun as I did the night I spoke to that PTA group. Now I love public speaking and, somewhere along the way in the years I've been doing it, I've found that I'm even somewhat of a ham, especially with the groups of children 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 you start to crave your next speaking engagement.

If this article has helped even one other person get over their fear of public speaking, then it was worth it. I want all of you to feel the same rush that comes from talking about your book or your writing.

Don't forget, YOU ARE the expert.

Oh, and smile!  It's a tremendous ice-breaker with a crowd.

I wish you success!

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck


Lisa Daniels said...

Hi CJ - I used to have a real phobia about public speaking like you did, then I attended something called Speaking Circle that gave me tons of practice in a safe environment. Like you I have come to love the experience of standing up and talking in front of a group! The fear of public speaking is a debilitating fear for so many people. If you have this fear I urge you to do everything in your power to overcome it. If you do, the world will open up to you.

Unknown said...

Hello CJ. I started thinking of writing some stories for children. I like illustrating stories. I prefer a certain kind of stories, so I thought: I'll write them myself! I had an education in Dutch textwriting, so that's a start.
I told some friends who know more about writing and publishing. They both think my stories (with some minor adjustments) are worth publishing. One of them told me too - like you do- I need to do talks and reading in public then.
I am really looking forward to the reading in public, especially for (and with) children! Thanks to the education I had as Jehovah's Witness I am used to do public talks! B.t.w. also because I am Jehovah's Witness I am not afraid of death...
With kind regards, Inge.

Colleen Kelly Mellor said...

Hi CJ--I know the terror--akin to peanut butter stuck to the roof of one's mouth, disabling the mere act of talking, and I'm a retired teacher of 30 years...You'd think I'd be used to public forums, but it's not the same. I do have a question, however: How did you break into the "getting paid" category...How did you know the fee to ask for (or did you just accept the PTA's proffered amount?) Is there a website that specifies? I'll be going up in front of doctors and medical personnel...Getting nervous already. Thx...

CJ Heck said...

Hello Colleen,
Most of us (authors) set our own fees, depending on our experience level. In the case of an author with a first school visit, they would set a low fee to start, just to get their feet wet.

The next year, as a more experienced speaker, they would raise their fee.

In your case, since you are speaking to a group of medical professionals, I would approach it this way. Sometime, during your initial set up conversation with the person in charge, you should confidently bring up the topic of the fee. Something along these lines:

"Yes, that date will work well for me. Do you have specific topics you wish for me to cover in my presentation? (Then just naturally flow into) ... Shall I also set my fee, or do you have a preset fee in mind for this engagement?"

If that doesn't sound like a viable solution, I'm sure there are websites 'out there' that address this issue.

Thank you for your comments and I wish you continued success!

CJ Heck said...

A special thank you to Lisa and Inge for your kind comments. I wish you both much success in your speaking engagements!

Janet Heller said...

Dear CJ,

Your essay is helpful to writers. I think that the more practice in public speaking that a writer gets, the easier it is to do more events. I have also met new friends and members of my writing critique group at speaking engagements.

Best wishes!

Janet Ruth Heller
Author of the award-winning book for children about bullying, How the Moon Regained Her Shape

Mary E. Matin said...

Hi C.J. A great article. It seems the ability to write, to go inside oneself and explore definitely conflicts with the confidence needed to project for public speaking.

Moira Beaton said...

I enjoyed your post. And what your husband said was spot on.
However, for those who are terrified of speaking to an audience Toastmasters International is the organisation that can help. There are 14,350 clubs in 122 countries (most of them in the USA). They work to a programme with peer evaluation. And I have seen phenomenal progress in members who just could not open their mouths in public.

Unknown said...

Next week, I have my first author engagement, to speak to a group of writers , readers and interested people about my book, my writing process and indie publishing. I shall remember I AM THE EXPERT.
A great mantra for the occasion. Thank you

CJ Heck said...

Christine, that's wonderful! I wish you the very best! Yes, you can do it -- I'm so proud of you!

sheri levy said...

Wow! This was perfect timing to read your article.My first book is coming out late August and I'm already marketing and talking about school visit. I taught school for 25 years and know a lot of people in the community. It has been easier to think about marketing and setting up author visits, but it makes me nervous thinking about the first time I will do this!! I loved your husbands comments and yes, they are so true. I will repeat thos e words over and over!!!! Thanks...