When I think back to the jitters—no that's too mild—the mind-numbing, paralyzing fear that I used to experience when I found myself facing a crowd and was expected to speak, I am proud of the progress I've made. And surprised at how much I enjoy the interaction with each group of people to whom I am presenting. From whence came this transformation? From years of work and counseling to overcome self-consciousness with improved self-esteem and from forcing myself to take the role of presenter in workshops, seminars, school visits and book talks.
Practice makes perfect, and perfection is my aim. Notice, I say aim, for I haven't yet reached that lofty goal. I am encouraged, by a book I just read, to believe that it is not an impossible goal, and with planning and practice, it is within my reach. The book is Presentation Skill 201 by William R. Steele. I've read it from cover to cover and will use it as a bible to keep me on track to further improve my public persona.
Here is a tip that has helped me move from knee-knocking, dry-mouthed fear to a more comfortable and enjoyable stance. If you are subject to stage fright at times, you may find, as I have, that you must put yourself out of your mind, completely. I don't mean you should lose your mind; I mean lose your self-concern: What will people think of me? How do I look? What if I forget what I'm supposed to say? What if I'm asked a question, I can't answer? What if they don't like me? Take care of those concerns before you go "on stage." Check yourself in the mirror to be sure your wardrobe is adjusted properly, your face is clean, your hair is in place, and you have no broccoli between your teeth. Make sure all the props you plan to use are in order, your electronics are working if you are showing slides or using a power point display, etc.. Be sure beforehand that you are ready.
Then forget yourself. Focus on your audience — on how you can best serve them. Focus on putting them at ease without putting them to sleep. Make eye contact. Care about each of them. You are there for them. Not for you. When you are thinking of them, you will lose the consciousness of yourself that produces stage-fright.
For how to prepare; how to feel confident that you can meet every challenge that could arise, I recommend Steele's book. He also has a blog where he posts helpful hints on public speaking.
For those of you who have heard me before, you may notice an improvement in my upcoming events, which include a four-day writing workshop at the Madison Valley Public Library in Ennis, Montana, August 17-20, a one-hour talk on "True Fiction: What It Is and How to Write it" with excerpts from some of my novels, also at the Ennis Library on August 22 at 10 a.m., and in Billings on October 3 when there will be readings by all award finalist authors in connection with the 2009 High Plains BookFest.
And, I'll plan an acceptance speech—just in case Kyleah's Tree wins the High Plains Book Award for fiction at the banquet on October 2.