Betsy Graziani Fasbinder was kicked out of Girl Scouts for being too shy to sell cookies.
She was such a nervous introvert in high school that she passed high school speech with a grade of A- without ever giving a speech. She convinced her speech teacher to give her the option of writing 20-page term papers instead of delivering her required three-minute speeches.
Now she’s a professional consultant on giving speeches. And she gave an engaging and compelling presentation at the October 14 BAIPA meeting.
As authors, she said, we invest time, angst, and energy writing our books and building our platforms, but we don’t invest in ourselves.
It’s not news that most people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. (Seinfeld has a joke about this, she said. At a funeral, we’d rather be lying in the coffin than doing the eulogy.)
People are afraid they’ll look foolish. Or too old, too overweight, too whatever. Or not famous enough, not clever enough, not whatever enough.
But as writers, we need to be comfortable speaking. We’re the best ambassadors for our own work. Because we want to make a connection with people — on the page as well as the stage. We want to connect with readers and potential readers.
When we get comfortable speaking and reading from our work, she said, we make our books a three-dimensional experience. When we read, and people react, the books come alive. Fear of public speaking robs us of that experience.
Here are five key points she shared.
- Public speaking is not a gift, but a set of simple, learnable skills that can be developed by anyone who’s willing and motivated.
- Think of public speaking with a lower-case “p.”Anytime you talk, you’re doing public speaking, even if it’s just with a friend. “If I think of you as a public,” she said, “You scare me. But I don’t do public speaking, I have one-on-one conversations with each person.”If possible, speak only to people you can see and engage with. One person at a time for three to five seconds.
- You’re better at it than you think. We all have an inner critic and we have to quiet ours down. (One way to do that is to record yourself and then watch.)
- Writers already know a bunch. You already know how the value of telling a story. As screenwriter Aaron Sorkin recently said, “Virtually everything worth knowing can be conveyed in a story.”
- Create a map, not a script. That doesn’t mean you don’t want to practice, but for most of us, it works better not to read a speech, but to talk the way you would to a friend.
And here’s her “mind-blowing bonus tip” — If you connect well with your audience, they’ll forgive you almost everything. Connection is more important than perfection.
Then she quoted Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”
She also made a plug for watching TED talks, listening to audio books, going to writers’ events, participating in Toastmasters, and/or taking an improv class.
And whatever you do, don’t start with a joke.