By Laura Spinella
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
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.
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
attention… perhaps therein lies a clue.
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.
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.