A couple of weekends ago I was invited to do a book reading in Shaunavon, a small town about three hours from where I live. The venue was an art gallery and the librarians who hosted me were the sweetest people in the world. I had such a blast, despite the fact that I have not yet mastered my fear of people, and there were quite a few of those in that room.
But it was, as with pretty much everything in life if you go into it with the right attitude, a learning experience, and I thought I'd write down the things I learned so I can come back and read them later, when I've forgotten them, and learn them again.
1. If You Are Not Confident, Pretend
When I was prepping my little speech thing (it wasn't enough of a speech to just call it a speech), I remember thinking to myself, don't let them know you're nervous. Don't think it to yourself, don't say it to other people before the event, and for the love of every single in the whole wide world, don't say it to the audience.
So what did I do? I got up there, in front of all the people in all the chairs, and I said, "Thank you so much for having me today! I am really nervous!"
It just came out of me, like a hiccup. Have you ever tried to hold in a hiccup? Yes you have. And you know how impossible it is to do. But the ladies in the front row (maybe other people too but I was having one of those very anxious moments where the room shrinks to the size of a TV set in front of your face) laughed, like I was making a joke. Like I was actually a very confident person making a joke about being a very nervous person. That was super nice of them. And suddenly, magically, I felt kind of like a very confident person making a joke about being a very nervous person. And I decided to pretend, from that point on, that that was the case. And you know what? It kind of felt like it was the case. (Even though it very much wasn't.)
So the lesson I learned there was, if you feel nervous, pretend you're a super confident person just pretending to be nervous, like as a schtick. It might not work for you. I don't know. But you can try.
2. People Want You to Succeed
I think part of what makes me feel so anxious about public speaking is the idea that people might be sitting there hoping I mess up so they can go home and tell their friends and family about how stupid I am and what a terrible time they had listening to me talk about my dumb books. I feel like I have framed, in my mind, the entire situation as a room full of Simon Cowells hoping I will be very awful so they can say something blisteringly mean.
On Sunday, when I was talking, I looked over at one of the librarians, whose name was Anne (still is, as far as I know), and she gave me this smile that had a lot in it, if you know what I mean. It was one of those smiles that said, almost word for word, "I'm glad you're here, and I want you to do well."
It was a whole revelation! People want you to succeed! Not everyone, obviously, but lots of people. People go to things like book talks to have a nice time. They don't go there not to have a nice time. They want to enjoy you. You don't have to be afraid of them. Was everyone else aware of this the whole time? Why did no one tell me?
3. You Should Remember to Read From Your Book At Your Book Reading
Did I bring a book up onto the stage with me? Yes! Did I have a sticky note in it where I was going to read from? Yes! Did I practice reading the reading from my book? Yes!
Did I read from it?
I just forgot. I forgot to read from my book at my book reading. What a maroon. Thankfully, everyone there seemed to have a copy of it, and hopefully they went home and read from it themselves. Still, this is embarrassing.
Okay. Three things is enough. Three things is so many things to learn in one day. If you learned three things every day for the rest of your life, you'd have to start forgetting things on purpose to make room for all of it, and that's such a waste.
But now we have this handy resource for the next time I have to do a book reading, or maybe for the next time you have to do a book reading, or the next time you have to do any kind of public speaking. (Though, if you're not doing a book reading, maybe just skip #3. As embarrassing as it was to not read from my book at my book reading, I think it might be even more embarrassing to read from a book at something that is not a book reading.)
Cheers, Public Speakers.