From Zoom calls, to book talks and podcast interviews, as authors we sometimes have to speak in public. Just the thought of it is enough to send chills down many of our spines.
There was a time when as an author you could write your book, pass it on to your publishing company and watch the magic of the publishing machine unfold. These days, authors are stepping to the front more and more. We are being asked to be the faces of our books, to carry our characters into the world through our media and real world presence.
Oh the horror! I know the feeling! I always get a case of nerves when I am asked to speak or to give a 30 second elevator pitch. They see calm. I feel panic!
A number of years ago, I discovered the secret to overcoming nerves within the first 5 minutes of speaking. It transformed a pee-trickling-down-my-leg moment into a platform that I could stand on.
The Secret: Make the space safe.
That’s it. It’s not imagining everyone in their underwear, playing with a paperclip in your pocket (a tip from the movie, Maid In Manhattan) or reading from a script. It’s making the space a safe one for you.
One of my first speaking engagements was as a featured author and speaker at a sold-out literary tea. I knew the organizer and maybe one or two acquaintances, but for the most part, these were people I didn’t know.
Nerve-racking is an understatement! Sure, I’m an animated communicator. But what folks don’t know is I am very shy in unfamiliar social situations.
The organizer started introducing me, listing all the things that made me stand out. I felt my insides begin to collapse.
Right there, in my shrinking violet moment, I remembered something. Just a few minutes before, I had laughed with many of the attendees and had side conversations with those at my table.
That’s when the lightbulb came on! Connecting with people one-on-one changed how I saw them. Instead of seeing them as strangers, I saw them as friends. So, there was no reason to feel nervous. And when I approached the podium and turned around to face them, I felt safe.
There was also the time when I was one of three speakers at a women’s retreat. I tossed and turned all night. Wondering if what I had prepared was the right thing to share only added to my mounting anxiety. Despite this, it ended up being one of the most powerful presentations I’ve ever given.
In retrospect, the reason I was successful was because I did three things:
One, I took the pressure off of me to be perfect. Like Shonda Rhimes in her commencement speech to the Dartmouth University class of 2014, I outed myself. I told them I struggled with what to share. How liberating!
Two, I forged a connection with my audience.
Who among us have not felt fearful about doing something outside our comfort zone? That is a human experience we all share. By standing in my humanness, I not only made room for me. I made room for them.
Three, I enlisted the audience in the job of keeping me safe. By being unpretentious and connecting human-to-human, I garnered their support. Strangers became my cheerleaders. What I discovered is this: Your audience wants you to succeed; for by you doing so, they themselves are succeeding.
Find a point of shared humanness. That is the doorwy to safe spaces.