Tag Archive for: Public Speaking

Practicing Being Brave

by J.M. Phillippe

Last night I had the great joy of helping take over Creative Colloquy in Tacoma, Washington’s monthly open mic night with fellow Blue Zephyr Press authors Bethany Maines and Karen Harris Tully in order to celebrate the release of our newest collaborative effort, Galactic Dreams Volume 2.

I struggle a lot with public speaking. I have a theory that people tend to be better at either prepared presentations — creating a script and practicing it over and over again until they get it just right — or spontaneous presentations — getting the gist of an idea down in your head and then winging in more of an improvisation way. I developed this theory after taking an improv class in my 20s. It took a little while, but then I felt super comfortable getting up in front of others and making things up. But in that class we also had to prepare and perform a monologue. I had spent weeks being able to throw ideas out in front of this class of people and feeling comfortable with the idea of failing. But preparing something ahead of time gave me time to get nervous. Really nervous.

I thought of this again as I sat in the room waiting for my turn to read from my newest book, The Glitter of Gold. I had practiced reading it a few times. I know I have a tendency to talk fast (and read fast) due to years of being told that, so I had to sit and continue to take slow deep breaths to try to calm myself down.

And then I got up, and I started read. I’d like to say that I magically felt better and the words just flowed. Instead I kept losing my place on the page as I looked up at the crowd (something I was told was better than just keeping my head down and reading) and stumbling over words I’d read perfectly several times before. I found myself spontaneously rewriting sentences as I read, skipping words or changing the order for the sake of my poor twisted tongue, and I could feel sweat pooling on my upper lip.

I was fortunate enough to have family and friends come and support me, and I switched from face to face in the crowd, looking for a lifeline, and trying not to speed up as I got closer to the end of my prepared section.

When it was over, I was very happy to drop the paper down to my side, take my applause, say thank you, and get off the stage. It did not feel like a graceful exit.

And then my cousin told me later how proud he was of how brave I was — not just for reading in public, but for writing and putting my words out there for others to see. I of course started to tear up.

Both improvisation and presentation take bravery, and perhaps doing the one you are least comfortable with takes the most.

In the end, like anything else, they both take practice. Being brave takes practice.

And last night, my fellow authors and all the folks who participated in the open mic got a chance to practice being brave.


J.M. Phillippe is the author
of the novels 
, Aurora One, The Christmas Spirit,
and The Glitter of Gold and the short stories The Sight and Plane Signals. She has lived in the
deserts of California, the suburbs of Seattle, and the mad rush of New York
City. She works as a clinical social worker in Brooklyn, New York and spends
her free time binge-watching quality TV, drinking cider with amazing friends,
and learning the art of radical self-acceptance, one day at a time

Smile, You’re On!

By Laura Spinella 
My first public reading was nothing short of a disaster. Trust me; there
was nothing beautiful about it.  The
moment was so bad I couldn’t even articulate the aforementioned pun at my own
expense. (See Beautiful Disaster, Penguin, 2011) It was a packed library, which I wasn’t expecting. The sight of the
room was promptly followed by a panic attack, which I definitely wasn’t
expecting. In an aftermath of humiliation, I was left to wonder why such a
thing would happen to me. Theater was my passion in high school. I had no
problem getting up in front of a packed auditorium to belt out scenes and songs
from some of Broadway’s best shows. It’s particularly puzzling when you
consider that I am a far better writer than I am a singer. (Should you disagree,
no need to email) Yet that awful library moment ties with my five worst
publication experiences—thus far. A woman who came to a book club meeting, just
to make sure I understood her loathing of romantic Southern set novels, is a
close second.
            I would like to file
these experiences under live and learn. But with PERFECT TIMING out this
fall, my chances of avoiding public speaking and the occasional bitter book
club member are a moot point. In fact, I’d probably be wise to garner what I can and make an attempt to learn from it. So, what’s up with the public library debacle? A freak incident? Maybe. Was it the awkwardly timed realization that my words were suddenly out there for
the world to comment on at large? Could be. Or it might have been this: A
character that appears on stage comes with a predetermined script. While I
could certainly script my speech, there was no character involved. It was just
me… behind a podium…. a very undersized podium from what I recall.
            Many writers wear public
speaking like a second skin. They read fluidly from their books, conveying a story
as though the audience were a mesmerized group of kindergarteners. Speeches are
effortless, drawing in listeners and making them feel comfortable. These
authors segue from the written word to spoken the one as if public speaking were
their native tongue. To me, it’s a foreign dialect for which I don’t have much
natural talent. However, I do excel in group-specific public arenas. I’m great at book
clubs, almost entertaining—even if you don’t love romantic Southern fiction.
There’s something easy about sitting around with a group of women, even if you
don’t know a single one personally, and just chatting. On the other hand, I’m
stunned by the idea of getting up in front of that same group and being the targeted
center of attention.
Targeted center of
… perhaps therein lies a clue.
            Interestingly, I do have
a middle-of-the-road experience when it comes to public gatherings. More than
once, I’ve been asked to speak to my college alumni. I wasn’t flawless in these
instances, but I was certainly more comfortable than a generic public setting.
I suppose it has to do with camaraderie. While the alumni I spoke to were
individual strangers, we shared a common bond in having attended the same
university. My mind translated this as friendly territory, trickling down to my
nerves, which, in turn, did not fray. Had I sought professional help, I’m sure
this would have been the diagnosis.
            So tell me Gang members
and readers alike, how do you handle these situations? Are some of us just
naturally gifted when it comes to public gab? Or is it a skill that evolves
over time—like most things. You have captive audience here, please drop me
comment on public speaking 101.      
Laura Spinella is the award-winning author of BEAUTIFUL DISASTER and the upcoming novel, PERFECT TIMING. Visit her at lauraspinella.net