Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Why is it necessary to pump up my personality? I’m a writer. I deal with the written word, not the spoken word.

Engage the Audience

Many writers have that attitude. Writing can be a very solitary profession except for attending writers’ group meetings or conferences. Even at events like that, it is necessary for a personality to shine through. For anyone who has ever attended a reading, whether at a critique group or other event, the agony of suffering through a flat monotone rendition of five to ten minutes as contrasted to an animated, energetic presentation is awesome.

People struggle to keep their eyelids open during the boring reading, and probably don’t absorb much of the material. Meanwhile, the animated writer has people enthralled and the audience is sorry when it ends. Whose book are they more likely to want to buy? Whose program will be recounted to friends with pleasure and whose with comments about minutes seeming like hours?

Once a book is in print, and even leading up to that time, the author must put themselves in the public eye. Sure, written interviews, blogs and reviews are part of the game. But the other part is personal appearances. Blog radio and podcasts have become very good avenues to promotion. Giving talks and workshops, signings at bookstores and other unexpected venues. All of these put the author’s personality on display, not to mention the possibility of talking about your books at social gatherings.

For people who have difficulty relating to speaking in public this can be pure agony. Do the palms sweat? The voice shake? Every rational thought suddenly vanish into thin air? If the answer is yes, you need to pump up your personality. This is not only true for authors, but for anyone seeking to relate to the public.

Check your fears at the door
I speak from experience. There was a time I could no more talk to someone I didn’t know, let alone a crowd of people without approaching cardiac arrest. Then my sales manager at an office furniture dealership gave me the assignment of cold calling every office in a medical building. I quickly realized most of the doctors were so old they would probably be there until they retired and the only possibility of these calls getting me any business was if an office vacated.  Knowing that, I was free to try out different approaches and techniques. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to find any business.

In the end, I stopped at the management office and gave them my card. The receptionist said, “I always admire people like you. You seem to have such an easy time talking to everyone and anyone.” Mission accomplished. In the previous hour I’d loosened up and found my public personality.

 Here are a few tips…things that got me over the hump.

Talk to strangers. Now that might seem unrelated, but these are people you will probably never see again. So if you blow it, no problem. Walk up to people you don’t know at an event, nerves be damned, and break into a conversation. The first few times will be very difficult. After that it becomes much easier. You might even enjoy it, but most of all you will feel much more relaxed with strangers.

Practice changing the tone of your voice when reading or giving a talk, or even in general conversation. A tape recorder helps. You might be shocked at what you sound like. Develop a lift to your voice, a tone that implies you are really enjoying this and hope everyone else is. Vary the sound. Drop your voice a bit if you’re reading something sad, elevate it if the scene is happy or exciting. Vary the speed to match your subject.

Make eye contact
Make eye contact with the audience. If you are on the radio, still imagine making eye contact or smiling…it comes through in your voice. Have you ever heard someone say, “I could hear him smiling at me.” That’s what I mean. Your attitude comes through in the tone of your voice.

Be gracious to your audience. Haughty and arrogant don’t work. Okay, you’ve written a book or you’re an expert on your subject. That’s fine. 
These people have taken time out of their day to hear what you have to say, and they might buy your book. Respect that.

What else can you do?
Think of other things you can do to be engaging. Let a sense of humor come through where appropriate, but don’t base it on putting down other people. Make it light and funny. Jot down ideas for pumping up your public personality and review them from time to time. What’s working? What isn’t?
If you are on a panel, respect the moderator. Stay on topic as much as possible and don’t hog the microphone. Try to get a few laughs,but don’t ramble on and on. If you do, people might begin to imagine the old vaudeville hook and wish they had one. Say what you have to say and pass the mic.

Now go have fun with what you do.

Morgan St. James first book for Oak Tree Press is the funny crime caper WHO'S GOT THE MONEY? Visit her website for a full list of books, bio information and the Writers' Tricks of the Trade monthly E-Zine links.


Augie said...

I loved this post, and the encouragement. Thank you. Augie

Tony Conaway said...

Good post, Morgan.

I'll never understand authors who insist on reading something that they know won't be of interest to an audience. I pick something that I know will entertain.

Then authors make their job even more difficult by reading directly from their book. Why? It's easy to lose your place, trying to keep your book open while standing behind a podium.

To facilitate my performance - it's more than a "reading" - I type my piece on white card stock (which easy to handle but is less likely to blow away if there's a gust of wind). I number the pages, of course. It's double-spaced with plenty of room for notations (a slash means "pause here"), and I bump up the typeface to 14 point, in case bad lighting makes it hard to read. And if there is dialogue from multiple characters, each character has their dialogue typed in a different color.

But most importantly: know what piece you're going to deliver, and practice! When I'm sitting in the audience at a reading, I groan inwardly when an author fumbles through his/her book, muttering, "Now, which part should I read?"

Stephen L. Brayton said...

Good points. Being an instructor in a business has helped me better communicate with people. I have to speak with parents so that helps me when I go to book signings and author appearances.

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