“How to Tell Your Story in Person”

by Judy Jacobs
BATW members who attended the April 18 meeting at the Hotel Diva came away with tips on how to be better public speakers, a skill that can help in book promotion and other areas of our professional lives.

Suzie Rodriguez and Laurie McAndish King, co-presidents, began the morning with introductions and announcements that included:

Chris Baker will talk about Cuba at our July meeting, which will take place at Book Passage in Corte Madera and be open to the public.

• The new RSVP policy starts next month, with $10 charged for no-shows and those who show up without an RSVP.

Square, introduced by Suzie, is a free device that works with a cell phone and can be used by members to read ATM and credit cards when selling books.

The guest speaker, Betsy Graziani Fasbinder, communications trainer and therapist, taught us all how to tell our stories better – not on the page, but in person. She reminded us that impressions are made instantly, from the time you start greeting people when they come in the door.

And whether you’re presenting to an editor or publisher at a writers’ conference or giving a book talk, you want to boost your confidence and eliminate any distracting behavior.

Why be afraid of public speaking? There are lots of reasons, including:

  • Looking foolish. The “too” problem – I’m too old, too young, too inexperienced, too fat.
  • The “not enough” problem. I’m don’t have enough knowledge, I’m not charismatic enough.
  • I’m uncomfortable with everyone looking at me.
  • What if they don’t like me? What if I freeze or freak out?

Why public speaking for writers?

  • To sell books.
  • To build a community of colleagues and fans.
  • To connect to readers and potential readers.
  • To have the 3D writing experience. When we share our writing and someone laughs or is moved and tells you that your book changed their life, your book becomes three-dimensional.

Public speaking is a set of simple, learnable skills that can be developed by anybody who is willing. You can learn it by training yourself not to be nervous.

Anytime you’re talking about your book, project or idea, you are public speaking. When you’re the speaker at the front of the room you should look at it no differently than when you’re talking to your friends.

You are likely better at it than you think. Quiet your inner critic with realistic feedback and objective data. Find a critique partner to give you feedback.

Don’t forget to pause. In writing, punctuation is important. If you look at a page in a book, you’ll see a lot of white space – in the columns, at the top, at the end of a chapter. White space says take a pause. It allows you the reader to think about what happened in that scene and get ready for the next. When you’re speaking, silence is the punctuation, and it serves a similar purpose.

You need to pause in order to:

  • Add punctuation to your spoken narrative.
  • Eliminate chatter and nonwords.
  • Think, breath, relax.
  • Allow the listener into your story.

If you get lost when you’re talking, pause. Don’t say “um.” And avoid nonwords – dude is the current one among under 25-year-olds.

Instead, pause. You gain credibility the instant you pause. You want to act like you have all the time in the world.

Take up some room. Resist the urge to make yourself smaller. Gesture from the shoulders. Larger gestures are more natural. Timid ones are conspicuous. Take up room with your body, your voice and your energy.

Use eye contact to shrink the audience down to size. Talk to people one at a time, making eye contact with each of them. Move your eyes in a random pattern without darting or scanning, and look away during long pauses.

Putting on a good “performance” is the opposite of your goal. People come to meet and get to know the person behind the pages.

The person behind the pages is you. Be your real, authentic self on a really good day. Bring your whole self into the room and connect with people. Be a storyteller – not a performer.

In order to continue to improve your speaking skills:

  • Watch TED talks
  • Listen to Audiobooks
  • Go to writer events
  • Consider Toastmasters
  • Take an improv class

Many thanks go to Laurie McAndish King for arranging this meeting and the Hotel Diva for hosting us.