Friday, November 20, 2009

Public speaking

By Heather Justesen

Okay, so I've always been a bit of a wimp when it comes to standing in front of a big group and giving a talk--which is crazy, right? I mean, I've done it loads of times when I was in Young Womens and when I conducted in Relief Society in college, but the thought still scared me.

Then I started attending writing conferences and everyone I met was doing firesides and speaking at book clubs and Enrichment meetings. That's when I realized public speaking was a very real part of published author's lives.

And I was going to have to do it someday.


After I presented to high school students in my home town last week, the librarian (who is the sweetest person you ever met) told me I didn't look a bit nervous. Yay me!

Wish I could say I wasn't actually nervous, or that I didn't say 'um' about a zillion times. On the other hand, because I've been psyching myself up for public speaking for several years, I wasn't nearly as nervous as I expected to be. Many of the kids were honestly excited that someone from Fillmore could publish a book with a regular publisher, and get it into stores and everything. (There are lots of writers in my area with books in print, but very, very few who published through traditional channels--okay, I only know of one other, and she lives on the 'other' side of the county. If there are more out there, they're keeping that a secret.)

I admit I was tickled when several of the students (and a couple teachers) approached me to talk about writing, and I was able to get their names and email addresses to contact about starting a local chapter of the League of Utah Writers, which would be very cool since we're 70 miles from the closest chapter now. There are no writer's conferences within 100 miles, and I'm not aware of continuing ed classes in my area for writing. Hopefully we can solve some of those issues.

Here are a few obvious pointers for speaking in public that we sometimes have to remind ourselves about.

1) Be prepared. I know, I said the suggestions would be obvious, but it's amazing how many times I see someone get up to speak with only a few jotted notes. Basic notes worked fine for my 'how to write a story' presentation for middle school and younger because the kids were writing the story, but not for other presentations.

2) Target your audience. When I was in Kanab and Orderville this week I gave essentially the same presentation to both middle and elementary schools, but I targeted things for each group. And I learned where I need to tweak the presentation before going to San Juan to speak to their students in a couple of weeks.

3) Involve your audience. My high school presentation would have gone over a lot differently if I had been presenting only to people who wanted to be writers. Under the circumstances, before I present to a high school again, I'll make some tweaks to the presentation to try and draw the student in more. I think the way I did it went well enough, but it could have been better.

4) Just as I have to rewrite my books multiple times, we need to be open to reworking the presentations for future audiences. Yes, even speakers need edits.

5) Have fun. No, this is not impossible. If you're enjoying the presentation, those watching you will too. If you are nervous out of your mind, you'll make more mistakes and everyone will notice them. Don't apologize for being nervous or unprepared, brazen it out and see how confident you can appear. You might be surprised how many people you'll fool.


Rebecca Irvine said...

Wat to go! How did you get your speaking appointment set up? I need to do that.

Heather Justesen said...

I actually emailed the librarians at the schools. Some of them were given to me by another school librarian, but some I had to look up on the school websites. And, even though I sent out over 70 emails, I still only got about our or five responses. It's been a valuable experience, though.

Kimberly Job said...

You're inspiring!