In this business, talking about our books with a sense of ease is not only a skill, it’s a necessity. “Oh dread,” you say? “I’m embarrassed, shy, feel dumb.” We can all relate. But the truth is, if we want people to read our books, we have to talk about them. No matter how brilliant and innovative a publisher and/or publicist might be, authors must be great orators when it comes to selling.
At every turn, there’s opportunity to discuss a book-at signings, seminars, even during casual conversation. The most important hurdle is to change perception. Instead of looking at public speaking as a daunting, horrifying event, we can try to view it as an exciting challenge that can lead to a successful experience and increased sales. In my book, Meditations For Actors: For the Actor Within Us All, I offer more than two dozen positive tools to help you ground yourself and achieve goals more effectively and with greater ease. Especially when it comes time to performing. For my fellow authors, I’d like to share a few key tips for becoming more comfortable with public speaking.
Tip #1. Remember to breathe.“Breathing is instinctual,” you say? Not when you’re terrified! Knowing all eyes are on you and everyone is waiting for you to deliver the goods can be utterly paralyzing. The body’s initial response is to hold the breath. Even having been on the stage hundreds of times, I still have to remind myself to breathe. One or two deep breaths can thaw you from frozen stage fright. But don’t worry. If you forget to breathe, the worst that can happen is you pass out!
Tip #2. Make eye contact. Whether you’re addressing one person or a crowd of a thousand, try to direct your energy, through your eyes, to whomever you can. When eye contact is achieved between speaker and listener, a connection is made. It’s the unspoken way of conveying, “I’m here for you.” If you’re strangers, eye contact can automatically create a more familiar rapport. For those we know, it sets everyone at ease and sends a message of mutual participation in the moment.
Tip #3. Prepare.There are many steps in preparation and it’s possible to see them as fun. Remember what it is about your book that made you write it in the first place. Read it again. Know everything about it inside and out and own being the expert that you are. Next, hone in on what you believe to be the most important elements of your book, and then jot those down. Read your notes aloud and say them again and again and again. Practice speaking into the mirror (a guaranteed good laugh!) and rehearse with your spouse, dog, neighbor-anyone who will listen with a supportive, encouraging ear.
Tip #4. Speak up. Why not make sure that you’re heard correctly? (I learned this the hard way. An actor once approached me after a short seminar and said that he recommended taking Valium before going on stage. He thought the title of my book was Medications for Actors!) Be proud of your words. There’s nothing more distracting than a mumbler. When you speak up, your audience will feel more secure. Hence, so will you.
Tip #5. Keep your materials organized. If you plan to read from your book, I suggest you earmark the pages in advance. Searching for a specific page while everyone waits can be unnerving. After you have done your preparation and then organized your supplies, you no longer need to worry that a small unpredictable distraction may throw you off your entire agenda. (For example: Someone’s cellular phone ringing shouldn’t create personal hysteria, forcing you to run off the stage in tears.) For the more footloose, you now can allow yourself the freedom to improvise and play around with your audience without veering too far from your charted path. Being confidently prepared and well organized will relieve much performance anxiety and permit a far more pleasurable experience.
Tip #6. Find a common denominator. This may be the most challenging aspect to getting in the groove of comfort, but it will also be the most compelling bit of information when it comes to engaging your audience. For example, in my case, I’m most at ease discussing my book with a group of thespians who practice yoga and who live in Hollywood. Hypothetically, however, if I were speaking about Meditations for Actors to a crowd of chefs who are practicing Mormons living in Salt Lake City, I might have a hard time getting their attention. Hence, the situation would make me uncomfortable (as well as potentially boring my audience to the point of sleep). My mission then would be to find a common denominator.
This commonality can be in theme (emotional or moral), locale, profession, age, and a host of other specific similarities. So, returning to my illustration, in order to reveal common denominators, I would: (1) Talk about Emeril Lagassi-the famous showman TV chef-and what he must do to deliver his best performance, (2) Discuss meditation as a spiritual form of grounding oneself so as not to alienate or offend the devout beliefs of my audience, and (3) Point out the growing theatrical, creative, and cultural aspects of Salt Lake City and how my book applies to those involved in that growing trend.
Although that crowd may not stampede to the nearest Barnes & Noble to buy my book, at least I’ve designed my presentation to include and hopefully interest this particular audience. Discovering and exploring the common ground will absolutely put you and your listener more at ease.
Ultimately, the most important thing when it comes to speaking publicly is to relax and be yourself. The truth is, the more your audience is interested in you, the more apt they are to read your book.
Carra Robertson, author of “Meditations for Actors: For the Actor Within Us All,” is the Founder of Dablond Publishing and the soon-to-be-released e-zine “Actorstuff.” Robertson is an acting coach and motivational speaker. E-mail her at Carra@Dablond.com or write to her at 8391 Beverly Blvd., #189, Los Angeles, CA 90048. You’ll find Robertson’s Web site at www.Dablond.com.