Open Wounds

Public Speaking

Of Grant Monsters and Historical Societies

I’m presenting/lecturing/reading at the Queens Historical Society tomorrow evening. This is cool. I wrote a historical novel that takes place in Queens and Manhattan and the Queens Historical Society asks me to come speak at their author lecture/reading series. I’m pretty excited about it. I better get drressed up.

But first I have to finish my grant application for my day job. It’s due this afternoon at 12pm which means it must be finished by 10 so it can go out at 11 to be hand delivered. I have one more line to cut. It’s a different kind of writing, grant writing. It’s not very pleasant but it’s a skill that helps my fiction writing so I do it. Oh yeah, and it helps me keep my day job. And I can’t give it up yet. So I cut one line. Sounds easy until you see you’ve cut everywhere else after reading it over and over the day before into the night. But I digress a bit.

I’ve never been to the Queens Historical Society. I don’t know who will be there or what kinds of questions I’ll get but it will be different. I’m going to speak about the creation of Cid, the protagonist of Open Wounds, and how he came into being. He’s from Sunnyside, only two towns – about 30 minutes walk – from where I live in Jackson Heights. The 7 train takes you there in five minutes. The 7 also takes Cid in to Manhattan to see Captain Blood on his first day of freedom.

The reading runs from 6:30-8pm. Here’s the address of the Society:

Weeping Beech Park
143-135 37th Avenue
Flushing, NY 11354

Anxiety is Your Friend

Question number 3.

How do you deal with presentation anxiety? And how did you get over your fear?

Okay. Here’s one I actually have some expertise on. I know a lot about anxiety. You could say I’m an expert on it. I’ve lived with an anxiety disorder most of my life and in spite of this have performed as a reader, an actor, and a teacher in front of thousands of individuals over the last twenty years – and I’ve taught public speaking classes to just almost as many individuals.

The woman who asked this question had taken speech class and still had tremendous anxiety when she presented in class. I told her, “Welcome to the club.” The old stat from The Book of Lists is that people are more afraid of public speaking than death, taxes, divorce, and marriage. So If you’re scared of it you’re in the right spot.

So, to the first part of the question. Am I over my fear of public speaking? Yes and no. I still have some but I’d frame it as anxiety. Some days it’s higher and some days it’s lower but I am almost always anxious before events, the bigger the event the more anxious I am. But it’s normal anxiety – what you are supposed to have in situations like this – not overwhelming. And… the anxiety is much more manageable and that is why I can function and succeed with it. And yes, I even enjoy it (the public speaking not the anxiety – though we are friendly and exchange birthday cards).

What I did was do a lot of public speaking.

I practiced and practiced in my jobs. I liked teaching so I taught in all the different jobs I had. I watched other speakers and took techniques I liked, tried to avoid ones that I thought didn’t work.

I also took improvisational acting classes and found these to be tremendously helpful in building my confidence in my ability to deal with brain freeze (when you can’t think of what to say and stand there with your mind blank like you just drank a 7/11 slurpee way too fast) and in realizing there are many ways to get from point A to point B (ie: I don’t have to be perfect in what I say – I just have to get my point across). I will also say that taking acting classes and specifically improv classes helped me as a writer to see how ideas can be generated and grown very quickly with a minimum of effort. It also helped me to learn about character archetypes and how a 3-act narrative structure works.

I also swear by yogic breathing practices (pranayama), meditation, and asana (physical practice). I’ve practiced daily for the last five years and have been studying actively for fifteen. It has been the single most powerful collection of tools I’ve found to help me deal with life in general and anxiety in the specific.

Books to look at on public speaking:

The Exceptional Presenter (the best accessible, practical, and hands on resource I’ve found so far)

Public Speaking for Dummies (hey, don’t laugh, it’s a good resource!)

Brain Freeze and The Slurpie of Doom

I was interviewed by Johnny Tann yesterday for his talk radio show From My Momma’s Kitchen.

It was an hour-long and I have to say I was nervous about it. I’ve done interviews before and I’m usually nervous about them. That is as it should be. They are anxiety provoking experiences.

Things I worry about include:

  • What will I say?
  • Will I say too little? Will I say too much? I have an hour to fill…
  • Will I embarrass myself? My family? (My wife would tell me before every improv show I did, “don’t embarrass the family,” which, of course, is exactly what you do in improv but…)
  • What if I get brain freeze and can’t think of a thing to say? (It’s the slurpie of public speaking and these days I use simple breathing techniques to get through it but it does still happen.)
  • What if I say something that doesn’t make sense? (Do I ever make sense?)
  • What if I say something that makes sense but is stupid? (That puts me back to embarrassing.)
  • What if I say the word ask like ax and my family hears about it (my wife and son have been trying to help me get the New York out of my accent but it’s tough going – it doesn’t seem to want to leave.)
Since I teach public speaking I know these are all normal things to think about – to worry about. And I have ’em just like most people do too even though I’m pretty experienced at the game of speaking. But when it’s talking about my book and myself and not content that I’ve come in to teach (HIV/AIDS, Leadership, Cultural Diversity, Relapse Prevention) it’s different. This kind of speaking is about me and I find that uncomfortable. It is humbling. It is grounding. And believe it or not it is also, when it’s over especially, a bit of fun.
It helps in these situations to have a good host. Johnny was a great host and had great questions and made me feel at home. If you haven’t checked out the show here’s the link:
Now it’s time to worry about something other than the giant slurpie of doom.