At one of my local writers’ groups, members have been taking a turn at doing a “reading” session during the workshops. It was my turn this evening (gulp). Now, I have every admiration for people who can stand there for an hour and read great chunks of their work without faltering/messing up the reading/becoming put off by the glazed expressions of their audience, but I had grave concerns about the enterprise.
I decided to tackle it in a different way. Most people who know me would agree I am not a great orator – I talk too fast, stray from the point, forget where I was going with something and lose my thread. And it’s no use if I write it down, as in the heat of the moment, I never seem to be able to use the crib-sheet. There’s a reason I’m a writer….and that’s because I’m much, much better on paper.
Nonetheless, buried under a thick layer of public-speaking-fear there lurks the desire to entertain an audience. For the purposes of my ‘session’ I decided to use my (albeit limited) publishing successes as a basis for a “wot I’ve learnt so far” kind of talk. I started off with my probably-too-easily-won successes with PONY magazine when I was a teenager, the grim chunk of my life with no writing, and the slowly accumulated credit list with the women’s mags, the small presses and the odd competition. Using the stories as a framework helped me not to lose my concentration too often, and gave me something to do with my hands!
And of course it helped that my audience was great. Instead of shuffling in their seats and looking at their watches, they asked interesting questions and made useful comments. By the time I got to the end bit where I did actually read something of mine, it was fine (and, I hope, not too fast and stumbly!).
I guess, along with website design and management, market research, publicity etc, public speaking is just one of those complementary skills writers need to work on – as if the writing wasn’t hard enough! 😉