For the first part of this story, go here.
Given that Swanwick Writers’ Summer School is believed to be one of the longest established writers’ conferences in the world, I felt a huge responsibility to do my best. I’d checked out the venue online, and pictured myself on stage until I felt comfortable with the number of people who’d attend my talk. As I was a first time speaker there, and presumed that most people wouldn’t not know who I was, I rounded down the number somewhat. Even then, I assumed that I was being generous. I was wrong.
When I arrived at the venue, to give my talk on The Magic of ePublishing, I realised that the photograph online had been taken from part way across the room. There were a good few extra chairs that I hadn’t figured in to my visualisations. I had a brain-wobble. As I stood on stage for the sound check, people began to walk in. No problem. Not that many people. More people came. No problem. More people… more people… . In the end, twice as many people were in attendance as I had bargained for, and the brain-wobble became a breathing-wobble. After the sound check, I left the stage and went for a walk. Calm. I rationalised the number of people in the room. It wasn’t all that many. I could handle it.
As I walked back in, and was called up to the stage, I realised that the crowd had grown in my short absence. I stood behind the lectern and looked out at the faces. I noticed jostling papers and frustration. This was a morning talk. Some people’s faces were crinkled from a late night in the bar the night before: a cymbal-crashing-monkey-behind-the-eyes affecting their focus. Some were smiling. They seemed to recognise me. Some were chatting. I waited for them to settle, as I thought of some of the conversations I had overheard on my short walk. People were overwhelmed. They loved the experience of the Summer School, but they did not know how they’d squeeze any more information into their heads. I smiled, and felt warmth towards the audience, then I took a deep breath and relaxed. I didn’t hide that breath. They saw and heard it. Then, I urged them to do the same. As I explained that I understood how many of them might feel overwhelmed – and why they might – I assured them that they needn’t be tech-savvy to understand my talk. If all they could do online was to send an email, that would be enough to understand it. Shoulders around the room dropped. A grand exhalation met the stage. The talk began. The nerves were gone.
Now, clearly, I’m not going to share with you all that I shared with them. There are two reasons for this:
- Much of what I shared with them was unreleased research that I have worked on over the last two years for a product I’m launching in a few months and…
- Some of it was just for Swanwickers.
What I will tell you, though, is that the talk earned me a month worth of fan mail. I’ve had such great feedback not only on the content of the talk, but also on the results that people have achieved by following the advice that I shared.
Tips For Speakers
If you are about to take to the stage, here are some tips that you might find helpful:
- Not all audiences or venues are alike. You may think that having spoken on stage before means that you’ll never suffer stage fright. Not true. I’ve spoken – and sung – in public to audiences of up to 3,000 people, but Swanwick had me wigging it! Each event is different, but that is a good thing. It means that each event is an opportunity for you to develop as a speaker.
- Take a moment to pick up the ‘energy’ of the audience. If you’re Captain Logical, the use of the word ‘energy’ may have you reaching for your asthma inhaler. Chill. If you look at a group of people, it’s the work of seconds to determine whether they are a group of peace loving hippies or a rioting mob bent on the destruction of public buildings. You’re hard-wired to understand this stuff. Look at the audience and see what – as a whole – they are communicating about their feeling as a group. Respond to that.
- Remember that you have value. You were asked to speak for a reason.
- Prepare to be mobbed. If you do a really half-arsed job of speaking on stage, you won’t be mobbed. If you do put any other portion of your posterior into the show, however, there’s every likelihood that you’ll be hunted down by people who are nerdaliciously delighted by that subject. Try not to look too surprised when this happens. You’re an expert. People want to hear from you. That’s why you’re a speaker. Nerds are cool.
Leave me a comment below, and share your experiences of speaking – or of watching speakers on stage.
P.S. I opened up a few spaces for one to one coaching with me with a view to my clients creating a product or book by the start of January. If you’re interested in developing a 90 day plan to do this, it’s a very limited offer and an absolute steal. I have space for one more person. If the paypal link doesn’t work, the place has gone. Here’s the offer… 3wishes.withrebecca.com Good luck!
P.P.S. If you’re not ready for coaching, but you’re keen to write a book, have a look at my Right to Write audio course.