I love speaking in front of crowds. I really do. I love connecting with an audience, love hamming it up a lot, love telling jokes. But I didn't always. I used to get so nervous that my whole body would shake, and I often would have preferred getting root canal without anesthesia to standing up in front of people. Of course, I still get butterflies, but I've learned that all that comes before the event--that once I get up and start speaking, it's bliss.
Dr. Carolyn Roy-Bornstein is a Boston-based author who is offering a course at the famous Grub Street to help writers be their best in front of an audience. I'm thrilled she's here on my blog.
Why do you think authors need help in giving speeches?
In publishing today, platform is everything. Whether you are looking for an agent or a publisher or are simply hoping to boost your book sales, you have to show that you have ready-made followers, an audience that is interested enough in what you have to say to buy your book. Invariably, that's going to involve becoming an expert in your field and giving speeches. I help authors identify topics most compatible with their areas of expertise and their book titles and then walk them through the various steps of speech-writing.
What kinds of things do you work with with authors?
In the workshop, I teach authors how to begin their speeches in interesting ways and how to choose topics that will win over audiences. I suggest unique ways to research their subjects, like spending a "day-in-the-life" of someone whose field they'll be discussing. We also play around with various ways they can structure their talks from a straight linear narrative to a numerical approach to a "compare and contrast" format and see which one works best for their subject. Then there are the nuts and bolts of speech-writing like estimating speech length from word count and using rhetorical techniques like anaphora and epiphora.
What do you think the biggest problems authors have speaking in front of crowds and how does an author speech differ from any other kind of speech?
An author speech is no different than any other kind of speech and authors have the same problems even the most polished speech-givers have. What my workshop teaches is that, with preparation and practice, anyone can become a poised and articulate orator. I give folks the tools they need to build their own platforms so to speak.
Can you help with stage-fright---and without Xanax?
Yes! The first thing I try to get across to authors is that your audience is rooting for you. They want you to give a successful speech. They're on your side. I encourage authors to learn as much as they can about their audiences and find some things they have in common, some way to connect. For example, I recently gave a talk to a group of nurses at a Trauma Symposium. Though I'm now a doctor and a writer, I was a nurse for 10 years. Voila! Instant connection! And with that connection comes confidence.
Do you recommend that authors memorize their speeches? And do you help with body posture, hand motions, etc.?
For me, memorizing a speech wouldn't work. One forgotten word might lead to panic. I use single words or short phrases on index cards as prompts. By the time I give a speech, I've practiced it enough (with my kitchen counter as my podium and my dog Homer as my audience!) that those simple prompts readily remind me of each point I need to make. As far as body language goes, that falls more under the category of public speaking than actual speech-writing but yes! We get into that, too. I have "day of the speech" tips: everything from checking your equipment to meeting your host and a few audience members beforehand. I also recommend bringing your water bottle to the podium but don't drink! That's just for emergencies! (Sipping frequently can make you look nervous even if you're not.)
Here's the "What question didn't I ask that I should have?" portion of the interview:
Tell me a little bit about Grub Street where you'll be giving the workshop.
Grub Street (whose tag line is: Where Boston Gets Writing) is the 2nd largest independent center for creative writing in the U.S. They offer a wide array of high quality classes and services for writers at all levels and in all genres from craft to publication and promotion. I'm really grateful to Chris Castellani for giving me the opportunity to offer this workshop. Chris is always interested in ways to support his writers and help them build or solidify their platforms so he's always open to new ideas.
And when and where will the workshop be held?
I'll be offering the workshop on Thursday May 24th from 11am to 1pm at our brand spankin' new headquarters on the 5th floor of 162 Boylston Street in Boston. And spaces are going fast. My class was over 25% filled in the first two days it went up!