In order to work, writers need solitude, and they need to be comfortable with it. My guess is that most writers tend to be introverts who are more comfortable alone than in large groups. Introverts are also uncomfortable with public speaking. Ironically, actors can be either introverted or extroverted. Their personal characteristics do not necessarily affect their professional work. I am a total introvert.
In high school, to prepare myself for the wider world, I took a speech class my senior year. My English teachers also recruited me to compete in a storytelling contest in which I progressed to the state finals. During my adult work life, I’ve had jobs in which I needed to speak well, whether in meetings or at sales conferences. I was not required, however, to give speeches or presentations on my work. That is a totally new experience for me.
My presentation last Saturday at the Minnesota Mensa Regional Gathering on material from the memoir I’m working on, The Successful Patient, went far better than I anticipated. I presented to a full room of attentive and engaged people. Their attentiveness reassured me. The slides were in the correct order and worked on the laptop. The Q&A discussion brought good questions, additional suggestions for patients to be successful in taking care of themselves, and excellent comments. The feedback continued for the rest of the day and even into this past week — all positive. You’d think I’d be ecstatic, right? But….
My first issue, of course, was my jangled nerves. I could do with a lot less of them. I’ve been thinking all week about how to stop the nerves and came to the realization that for me, the nervousness is about my lack of self-confidence. Once I’ve done more successful public speaking, my self-confidence will increase and the nerves, I hope, will decrease. Then I won’t knock over my glass of water as I did last Saturday, and won’t need to take Imodium twice before the presentation. I’ve been thinking about what I did right, and what I could do better in the future:
- Practice, practice, practice. I rehearsed my presentation over and over, adding, subtracting, doing it a little different each time. I knew what I wanted to say in the introduction, for each slide, and for my conclusion. I had practiced it so much that my nervousness could not make me blank out.
- Remember your intent/purpose. I wanted to share information and experiences that I believed could be helpful to others. This was really important to me and motivated my presentation.
- The audience wants to hear what I have to say — or they would not have taken the time to attend the presentation. It helped to have friends in the audience, and a champion who smiled every time I looked at her, but it also helped to look at each person’s face, to see their concentration, their interest. It’s hard to look at the audience, but it is an essential way to include them. I’m glad I did it.
- Have alone time before the presentation. I didn’t know I needed this until I was there and had no time to quiet my mind, ground myself, and focus. Everyone I know who performs always takes time alone before starting the performance. I need to keep that in mind for the future.
- There’s usually at least one person who wants to take you off topic. Last Saturday, she sat right in the front row, and she wanted to talk about medical insurance which I had not included in my presentation. I listened to her, then explained to the room that I wouldn’t be talking about medical insurance — a huge topic that deserved it’s own presentation. She came back at me a little later, and I repeated what I’d said earlier. When I talked about patients needing to be curious and to ask questions, I motioned to that woman in the front row, to let her know that it was a good thing to ask questions, even if I was not going off topic to answer them.
What pleased me the most after it was all over? I saw people take their answer sheets with them. They’d written notes they wanted to keep. I’d given them information they could use. I had fulfilled my purpose for doing that presentation……