Sunday, August 8, 2010

Stage Fright

A few years ago, I attended a talk by a famous literary agent where she told us about the things an author might have to do, such as talks, book signings, and perhaps radio and TV appearances. At question time I gathered up all my courage and asked, “what happens if you’re an author and you’re a shy little wallflower type person?” She frowned at me and just said “You can’t be”. Right. But I was!

Don’t get me wrong – I love being the centre of attention in a small way (I’m a Leo so that comes with the territory) and don’t have any problems chatting to strangers. Speaking to a large audience, however, is a different matter. Then I’m far from confident and envy those people who can just stand up and keep a crowd enthralled. How do they do it?

I don’t ever feel that I have anything very interesting to say and I’m useless at being funny. At least intentionally. I once fell into a shop window in Oxford Street by mistake (I thought there was a glass partition protecting the dummies and leaned on it, except there wasn’t so I landed in a pile of fake snow) and that caused a great deal of amusement. In fact, my brother still laughs every time he even thinks about it. Sadly, I can’t perform such feats on command.

Some people seem to be born comedians and/or talkers and they’re never lost for words. Me, I’m the kind of person who always thinks of the witty repartee AFTER the conversation is finished. That’s why I became a writer, because then I have the time to think about it first! But that’s no good when you have to promote your book.

I’ve come a long way since that agent’s talk, but public speaking still gives me stage fright. I am learning though and in order to improve I even did a one-day course in public speaking, which was great. We learned that preparation is key – things like knowing your audience (what kind of people are they? what do they expect from you?), arriving early so the location doesn’t give you any nasty surprises, knowing your subject and being enthusiastic about it – this all helps. Always have three main messages that you want to get across and not lose sight of them. And it’s okay to be nervous, the adrenaline may even help.

I’m not sure I remembered any of those things during my recent attempt at public speaking as part of a panel at the RNA conference, but it went better than I thought so perhaps there’s still hope for me. At least I proved to myself that I can actually do it if I have to and practice makes perfect, right?

Anyone else a shy wallflower? And if so, how have you overcome that in order to do talks? I’d love to know.

Don't forget to pop back on Thursday, when Liz Fenwick will be posting.


  1. I bet I know who that agent was, Christina!

    I can totally sympathise with the stagefright, but I think I'm your mirror image with the wallflowering! I get tied up in knots speaking to strangers, and never quite know what to do with myself in social situations. But (although I still get a bit nervous) talking to groups gives me a buzz - I get excited about talking about things that interest me, and sharing what's helped me.

    My Mum's a retired teacher, so I think that urge overides the social inferiority complex...

    I'm impressed you overcame all that at the Conference. Kudos!

  2. An enjoyable blog, Christina.

    I'm an ex-teacher, so speaking in front of students has never been a problem. Speaking in front of peers, though, was a totally different matter.

    When we had to give assemblies, it was facing the serried rows of your teacher friends that was so scary.

    I'm hoping that speaking to strangers/potential readers will be more like talking to students than to teachers. That's what I'm hoping!

    Liz x

  3. But Christina, you sounded so cool and controlled!! You were a berludy hard act to follow!

  4. Anna - we'll have to work together, obviously!
    Liz - how weird, I would have thought that talking to your peers would be so much easier, especially if they're your friends.
    Chris - thank you, but you were great!

  5. Oh, I so know what you mean!

    My first "public appearance" was at the age of 17 when I had to stand up in front of my entire sixth-form college and promote Amnesty International to a very well-fed and politically unengaged audience. I managed to hold it together outwardly, but inside my stomach had tied itself in knots.

    Not a great succes, although I did get one taker, which I suppose is better than a poke in the eye.