My fellow Texas blogger, Sophia Dembling, recently wrote a wonderful post about the challenges of book promotion for introverts. I loved reading her interviews with the writers and discovering kindred souls because I, too, am an introvert and I also find book promotion the most challenging part of the writing process. But anyone who wants to succeed as a writer (or in many professions) will need to develop stronger self-promotion skills. And as disheartening as it may be to introverts, public speaking can be one of the best ways to promote and sell yourself (and your book).
I've heard there are studies that say public speaking is the #1 fear for most people-- even higher than the fear of death. Now I have to believe that if those people were really put to the challenge, as in "Speak or die!", they would likely speak, but who am I to argue with "studies" or what "they" say.
For me, public speaking has gone from being something which filled me with anxiety and all its wonderful symptoms (see a funny Don Knotts version here) to one of my favorite activities. I now regularly speak as a consultant or trainer. I seldom receive negative feedback (although I still hyper-focus on that one reviewer who wasn't so thrilled...) and I've learned that anxiety can be overcome-- or at least ignored. Public speaking is a skill introverts can develop, and maybe even learn to enjoy.
So here are 10 tips that have worked for me, and I hope you will find helpful:
1. Identify your public speaking role models and emulate them. What professors, public figures, or presenters do you admire? What did you like about their presentations or speaking style? Were they casual or formal? Did they work from a script or speak off-the-cuff? These are all clues for how you might want to speak. Watch TED presentations, speakers on YouTube, or speakers at conferences and notice how they work their magic. You may not be able to do everything they do, but you can learn a trick or two.
Though I didn't know it at the time, my late father served as my role model. He was an introvert, but he was also a minister so public speaking was part of his job description-- and his sermons never failed to deliver. He would spend hours at the typewriter crafting sermons filled with jokes, stories, and tales emanating from his rich, inner world (which you introverts know you have...), and no one listening to him would have ever guessed how much he would have preferred being home watching football games.
2. Find a way to make your content interesting. Compelling content or information can take the audience's attention off the speaker. Find creative ways to provide information-- something better than bullet points on a PowerPoint. If you are bored, your audience will be also. What are the most interesting features of your writing? Is it a compelling character, an intricate plot, or your cure for a problem? Focus in on that one area and let the audience in on why you find it so compelling. Don't try to encapsulate the whole book or story. Inspire them to read your book to learn the rest.
3. Intersperse interesting stories throughout your talk. Honing your storytelling skills is a great way to improve your speeches. Somehow when you're telling a story it's no longer about "you" and you can get lost in the story yourself. Think of examples from your work, family, or friends. I personally like Native American or Zen type stories that have a moral or serve as a metaphor to my topic. People remember stories, and stories naturally give you a connection to your audience.
4. Watch and learn from stand-up comedians. Particularly the successful and polished ones like Jay Leno, David Letterman, Wanda Sykes, or Ellen DeGeneres. Don't just enjoy their jokes-- study them like you would a master teacher. Listen to their phrasing, how they pause or accent certain words. Notice what they do when a joke bombs (hint: they don't fall apart or get upset-- at least not in public), and take note of interesting or funny lines that might relate to the topic of your talk.
I never try to tell a joke-- I suspect that would quickly bomb. Rather, I'll quote a comedian, as in, "I once heard Jerry Seinfeld talk about running magazines. He said he could understand the value of such magazines for the first issue or two. You could read articles about the shoes to buy or where to run. But, shouldn't the third issue or so just say ‘Run!'" By telling the joke like a story you engage the audience, create a humorous intro to your topic (mine fits in with a goal-setting session), but you don't run the risk of telling a joke and having crickets in the background. If no one laughs it's OK. You can always blame Jerry Seinfeld.
5. Use as many notes as you need. When I first started speaking, I would draft out my entire talk. Now I use a basic list of keywords to keep me on topic, and I use colored markers to write jokes or story ideas in the margin. I find too many notes distracting and hard to read when I'm trying to focus on my audience. If I had index cards, I just know they would fall on the floor at some point. So use what will make you most comfortable when you speak, and for some of you, a full script might be most comforting.
6. Practice. I know this sounds obvious, but give your speech in the car as you're driving to work. Practice in the shower. The more you know your material and the more practiced you are at delivering it, the easier it will be. Talk your ideas out with a friend or spouse. I built up my skills by teaching. My students inspire me to be creative and look for ways to keep them engaged.
7. Talk to the friendly faces and do your best to ignore the cranky ones. Facial expressions can be deceiving. I've had people who looked angry (crossed arms and all) during my talks come up later and thank me for a great presentation. By the way, picturing your audience nude or in their underwear (a common recommendation to nervous speakers) never worked for me. It just made me feel icky.
8. Be yourself. I know this can be hard for an introvert. Introverts don't like to reveal themselves-- we keep our inner selves hidden. But I have found that the more honest I am with my audience, the better their response. I have had occasion to bring up a personal situation (and then I immediately wish I hadn't-- it's that "ick" factor again when you think you've said too much) only to have people come up afterward and thank me for sharing that information. Quite often they're dealing with similar issues. Let your audience inside your writing process. What was your inspiration for a character or a plot? How did you sell your book to your agent? Being yourself is a great way to genuinely connect with your audience.
9. Identify your sales personality. I don't do well when I think I'm "selling." I'm reminded of a wonderful episode of the Bob Newhart Show-- Bob played a psychologist trying to help a client who was an unsuccessful salesman. He asked the client to demonstrate his sales technique. It turned out the guy just stood on the porch for a few minutes and never rang the doorbell. He would just hope that someone would open the door. I think that would probably be my approach if I tried to sell something. Instead, I think of myself as an educator. My role is to educate-- and my book is a product that can help my readers learn. I'm very comfortable educating people. Maybe that's your role, too. Or perhaps you're a storyteller and you will sell by spinning compelling stories. Or you might be a healer, a counselor, a coach or a consultant. Find your metaphor and work with it.
10. Get your energy back. As Monty Python says, "Run away, run away" after you're done speaking or promoting your book. Public speaking can be draining, so find ways to relax afterward. After a day of training, I am always grateful for reruns of NCIS on the USA channel when I'm safely back in my hotel room. I am often invited to go out to dinner with colleagues, but by the end of the day my voice is tired and so am I. I have learned that I'm asked too many questions and have to talk too much at those dinners, so I warn folks up front that I'm not being snobby or reclusive; I just need some detox time.
Bottom line: find your "sales" style and work it to your advantage. Public speaking and sales are skills you can develop, particularly if you don't try to be something you're not.