thoughts on public speaking

I love to write—a good thing considering I’ve devoted a large portion of my life and my time to it. I also love to read, and despite not having a commute and preferring tv watching before bed to reading, I still manage to read approximately one and a half books a week. So, yes, I love to write and I love to read. What I do not like, however, is reading what I write out loud to others. It’s true—I’m not a fan of public speaking unless it is someone else doing the speaking in public.

My first memory of speaking in public was my Bat Mitzvah on my thirteenth birthday. Not only did I have to read out loud —in Hebrew—I had to sing. In Hebrew. I clearly had no idea what I was in for when at the age of eight, I agreed to go to Hebrew school for the next five years in exchange for my mom throwing me a big birthday party otherwise known as a Bat Mitzvah. My only memory of the actual ceremony was singing Adon Olam with my sisters (18 and 20) as the three of us giggled uncontrollably, much to my mother’s chagrin. I also remember the rabbi forgetting to let me read the speech I (meaning my sister) had written for me. I don’t recall being too disappointed about it. The sooner we left the temple, the sooner we could eat pigs in a blanket. (Kosher pigs, of course.)

My second memory—the one that has haunted me ever since—was the oral report I had to do in Mr. Sherman’s social studies class in eighth or ninth grade. Kind of pathetic that I can’t remember which grade and makes me question whether I deserve the nickname my college housemates bestowed onto me for my amazing memory—Steel Trap. I spent hours preparing for this report, but my nerves were so shaky, I read it as if I was a contestant in a speed reading competition. When I was finished, the first question asked by a fellow student: “Can you repeat that?” All of my classmates, along with Mr. Sherman (shame on him) laughed while I ran out of the classroom in tears.

In order to graduate high school with a Regents diploma, I was required to take, complete, and pass a semester of public speaking, which meant I had to get up in front of the entire class at least five or six times to present an oral report on various subjects including my biggest peeve (people who make too much noise when they eat) and a demonstration (carving a pumpkin). The class wasn’t until my senior year, but I started fretting in tenth grade. My writing skills (and those of my sister who actually wrote my amazing pet peeve report) garnered me an A-. Why not an A, you ask? Because I spoke too quickly and lacked showmanship.

I’ve received this criticism many more times throughout the last couple of decades, specifically when I’ve written speeches/toasts for various weddings. The speeches are always impressive—I’m a writer; it’s what I do. But since I’m so concerned with getting it over with, I don’t give the toast as much as read it as fast as humanly possible. I don’t know why I don’t like speaking in public. I don’t have an aversion to being the center of attention sometimes, but I suppose I prefer it in a less formal way, like when there are no expectations of me. When I have twenty plus pairs of eyes on me, eager to hear what I have to say, and (at least in my mind) judging how I say it, it freaks me out. I remember when my boss asked me to say a few words about my experience during a client pitch, I rehearsed those seven lines over and over and over again. The pitch was via a video call and the clients could barely see my face, but did that ease my nerves? Of course not. My heart was beating triple time throughout the entire thing. The “thing” that lasted all of one minute.

Since becoming a published author, offers to speak in public come more frequently and while I’m not required to give them in order to graduate high school, the more exposure I can gain for me and my books, the better. And so I always say “yes” when an opportunity arises. Earlier this year, I did my first reading at Barnes & Noble. I was equal parts stoked for a dream come true and horrified at reading an excerpt of my latest book out loud. On the advice of a few other authors, I marked up the portion of the manuscript I was reading with notes when to look up, when to emphasize, when to pause. It really worked. I did well, but I didn’t morph into a fearless speaker by a long shot.

I spoke at a writer’s group through Meetup last weekend about my writing experience and my journey to getting published. I also gave the pros and cons of publishing with a small press based on my experience. I was seriously nervous, but I prepared by writing a speech and then transferring the major points onto index cards so that I would be able to speak more openly rather than read from a script. I rehearsed alone in my apartment numerous times. It was an informal gathering and I welcomed interruptions for questions by those in attendance. It went well and, in fact, I had a great time. I enjoy giving advice/guidance to writers aspiring to be published. I went to bed that night with a sense of pride that I stepped outside of my comfort zone as well as relief it was over. And then I woke up the next morning to an email from the president of Federal Toastmasters asking if I’d be willing to speak at one of their meetings—she wanted me to present on my experience with hybrid publishing. With a wave of dread, I knew immediately I was going to say yes. How could I say no? I’m not comfortable making decisions based on fear and know I would regret it if I did.

And so, on October 14th, I will be one of three authors headlining the Federal Toastmasters “Author Speak.” Will I knock them dead with my showmanship? Probably not. But I’m getting there.

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Public Speaking – Gah!

I like having my voice heard when I speak. It bothers me when I feel ignored or when the company I keep pay half-assed attention to what I’m saying while looking over my shoulders at what is going on behind me or taking what they think are furtive glances at their phones. I enjoy holding a captive audience of one or two or three, whether on a date or out with friends—when it is my turn to speak, of course, as a balance of give and take makes for the best conversations.

I’m not opposed to speaking. I’m quite skilled at it, in fact. I don’t, however, enjoy public speaking—as in getting up in front of a crowd of people. At All.

Sometimes I still can’t believe that at the age of thirteen, I stood on a stage in front of upwards of fifty people and, not only spoke, but sang. Not only did I sing, but it was in Hebrew!! I totally did it for the gifts and the party, but still…If asked to do that today, no way. No effin’ way!! Even that day, I vividly recall my sisters and me unable to contain our laughter when called upon to lead the congregation in “Adon Olam.” I suppose we were cute in our own way, but I doubt it was what the rabbi, cantor, or my mother had in mind.

In order to graduate high school with a Regents diploma, I had to take a semester of Public Speaking. The class consisted of giving a series of oral reports on various topics in front of the classroom. The only ones I remember are “pet peeves” (mine was people who make too much noise when they eat); interview (we were paired with another classmate to role-play the interview process); and a demonstration. For my demonstration, I taught the class how to carve a pumpkin. Only my hands shook so badly, my friend Eric had to do the actual carving. A nervous girl should not be armed with a knife…I received an A- in the class. The writing was consistently spot-on, but my performance left something to be desired. Specifically, the teacher complained that I spoke too quickly. I was trying to get it over with!

But the most memorable public speaking experience for me was in ninth grade when we had to describe some aspect of geography in 3D. I don’t remember much about my actual report, except that I *attempted* to create a globe out of clay. I stood in front of the class and read my oral report. At the end, relieved to have it behind me, I asked the class the required question, “Any questions?” One hand flew up—Dante Golio. With a straight face, Dante said, “Can you repeat that?” apparently referring to the speed with which I spoke. The entire class, including my teacher Mr. Sherman, broke out into hysterics. Mortified and feeling betrayed by my teacher, I ran out of the class and directly to the girls’ bathroom where I sobbed. I’ve never fully recovered.

I write all of this to tell you that on the evening of Thursday, February 12th, I will be doing my first reading at Barnes & Noble in Manhasset (Long Island), along with fellow Booktrope authors Hilary Grossman and Jennifer Gracen. I’ve done my share of book signings and author-related cocktail parties, but this is my virgin “reading” and, yes, I’m quite nervous about it. Excited for sure, but anxious. What if I read too quickly? It’s always been my cross to bear. What if I suddenly lose my ability to read at all and the words just blur into strange characters on the page before me? What I trip on my way to the podium? These questions and more will be answered in a little over a fortnight, along with a three-four page monologue of How Do You Know?.

I will be sure to report back, but if you’re in the area, please stop by to support me (or take pleasure in my discomfort).

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Writing Whore – Part 2

If you read my blog last week, and I hope you did, you know I am a writing whore. It’s ok, I don’t try to hide it by writing under a pen name. All of my novels (all=one) are published under my real name as are my book and restaurant reviews. There is no shame in being a writing slut!

As much as I enjoy writing, if you asked me to read my work in public, I might be tempted to run away. (It’s a good thing I’m a running slut too!) I’m not a particularly shy or quiet person but getting up to speak in a room full or even half full of people causes significant anxiety.

 

Just a few weeks ago, I was asked to attend a pitch to a potential client. In our prep meeting, I was told I would have to say a few words about myself: my name, my years of experience and what I do in a nutshell. It was not difficult to compile this information since I know my name and how long I’ve been a trademark paralegal and I’ve had to summarize what I do countless times. Nevertheless, the thought of doing this in the presence of four partners, including the chairman of my firm and a bunch of potential clients, set my pulse racing wildly. I wrote down my “speech”, all of 16 words, and recited it over and over again, “Hi, I’m Meredith Schorr. I’m a trademark paralegal with 15 years experience in domestic and international trademarks, including, blah, blah, blah, blah.” “Hi, my name is” Crap, I meant “Hi, I’m Meredith Schorr. I’m a ….” I was still memorizing the stupid piece of paper mere seconds before my turn! And I have no recollection of speaking at all. I just remember it being over.

When I told people my book was being published, many of them asked if I was going on a book tour and if I’d have readings at Barnes & Noble and other brick and mortar book stores. While I did participate in a online book tour (blog tour) and look forward to doing it again with a second novel, there was no big cross-country tour, or (even cross-town tour) for Just Friends With Benefits. I published with a small boutique publisher and have not exactly hit the big time. I’m ok with that although, of course, I still have big dreams of book tours and movie deals. On the flip side, the very idea of reading excerpts from Just Friends With Benefits in public as part of a live book tour sends my knees wobbling, and not the sort of knee wobble one gets from a really good kiss but the sort of knee wobble one gets out of sheer terror!

I was taking a novel writing course with Gotham Writer’s Workshop while I was writing the first draft of JFWB. My awesome instructor, multi-published YA writer, Matt De La Pena, had us read a scene from our pages before beginning the critique. When it was my turn, he ALWAYS chose a sex scene from JFWB. If you’ve read the book, you know there are only a handful of these scenes but out of all the scenes he could have chosen for me to read out loud, he picked the sex scenes! Writing sex scenes is not my favorite thing to do but making me read them out loud to my classmates was just mean!

I’ve always dreaded public speaking. I had to take a public speaking class in high school in order to graduate with a Regents diploma and I worried about it for years prior. I got an A-. I was told I would have gotten an A if I didn’t always speak so fast. Duh – I was trying to get it over with as quickly as possible! Back in the 9th grade, I had to do an oral presentation in my Social Studies class. We had to present some aspect of the world in 3D. I remember creating some sort of globe of the earth with clay. I am the WORST artist and so I’m sure the globe was not a very good representation of the earth but I’m pretty certain the report itself made up for it. I remember the feeling of relief passing through me when I finished the presentation and inquired of my classmates whether they had any questions and crossing my fingers behind my back that no would raise his hand. No such luck. Dante Golio raised his hand and loudly said, “Can you repeat that?” Since I was famous for speed talking, everyone knew what he meant and the entire class erupted into hysterics, including my teacher, Mr. Sherman. I ran out of the classroom crying. It was horrible. I’m on the verge of tears right now just thinking about 14 year old me running out of the class in tears and then having to come back in later with my tail between my legs. Dante never apologized. If he’s reading this or any of my Facebook friends from high school are in touch with him – tell him I’m still waiting for his apology and am glad I said “no” when he asked me on a date in the 7th grade.

I was the maid of honor for my sister’s wedding when I was still in college. The wedding was in February but my toast was written by November. It was a great toast but I had to do about 4 shots of tequila before making it. And since I had a terminal case of laryngitis in my college years, I sounded like a frog. A (very) drunk frog. One of my best friends has now asked me to be the maid of honor for her wedding this June. I haven’t started writing my toast yet but I’ve jotted down notes. I don’t think I’m up for 4 shots of tequila anymore but I will definitely require some liquid coverage.

It goes without saying, but I will say it anyway, that I do not like to sing in public either. In terms of karaoke, I enjoy belting out songs in groups, or even me and just one other person. But as soon as I am alone up there, I feel like Cindy Brady when she got paralyzing stage fright on that game show. I’ve always wished I was a ham and someone who could just get up in front of tons of people without a second thought, but I’m not that person. Years back, my friend Alisa tricked me into singing alone one night at karaoke by promising to sing with me. We were supposed to sing Another One Bites the Dust by Queen. (Strange song choice, I know, but I have a pretty deep voice and there are very few high notes.) Anyway Alisa sang the first two words with me and then *quietly* walked away leaving me on stage alone. I completely froze and when I yelled at her later, she said she was trying to help me overcome my fear. Next time, Alisa: DON’T. Even in the presence of friends I’ve had for almost 20 years, I require multiple drinks and am still nervous on the rare occasion I take the mic at my friend Dan’s house parties. Dan says my “voice is pretty good but I have no stage presence.” That’s because I’m terrified, Dan 😦

In sum, in terms of my least favorite activities, speaking in public is up there with going to the dentist, doing laundry and commuting in the rain and I am most definitely NOT a public speaking slut. I guess you could say I am a public speaking prude 🙂