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Corralling the butterflies

11 September 2010

A couple of days ago, I listened to a segment on NPR about book promotion. The journalist described the importance of an author’s ability to speak to groups. As an experienced public speaker, I thoroughly agree.

Writing is a solitary endeavor. A writer places the words end-to-end, allowing them to stew for a while, massages, replaces, and rearranges them until their meaning is clear, concise, and meaningful.

Once you are a published author, the solitude fades and the expectations change: you must now promote your book. In person. In front of people.

How scary.

Will you faint? Will you stammer and forget what you wanted to say? Whose idea was this, anyway?

About 15 years ago, I joined a group called Toastmasters. (Find them at Toastmasters.org, although I was a member long before the Internet). Soon after joining, I learned Toastmasters is an international organization, dedicated to helping people become more comfortable in front of an audience. Since that time, I have presented workshops, lectures, and speeches to small and large groups. Butterflies still visit me, but from years of standing before a group and speaking, I have learned to control them. It’s all about rounding them up and containing them, so you can proceed with the program.

At one of my recent book signings, I discovered the bookstore manager had placed rows of chairs in front of my table. Several people were sitting in the chairs before I arrived. I had no idea I would be speaking to a group, and had prepared nothing in advance. In the ten minutes before I began, I was able to create a brief discourse for the audience—just something to get the ball rolling. Thankfully, my public speaking experience had saved me from embarrassment.

Of course, it’s all about the writing, too. Someday, I hope to be a bestselling author. When and if that happens, and I am invited to speak on Larry King Live or Good Morning America, at least I’ll be able to round up all those butterflies ahead of time.

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