Yesterday I participated in a career fair for my daughters school. Because kids that age (12/13) are so visual I organized my notes into a power point. One of the the items I listed on "If you want to be a writer, you should..." was public speaking. I pointed it out because a) it's true and b) I had no idea it was true until a few books into my career.
As I've said many times, I approached writing with the assumption that within a few years I would have a cabin to write at. I'd disappear for days at a time and just write while gazing over meadows. My family wouldn't mind because I was a WRITER, my neighbors would think it was cool, not weird, and when people made comments I would say something incredibly profound that would change their tune in a heartbeat! As I've also said, this did not come to pass.
Instead I found out that there was a WHOLE lot more to this writing. There is also promotion, understanding contracts, negotiating contracts, knowing the market, knowing your audience, tax issues, etc. And, there is public speaking, something I have dreaded most of my life. I would not try out for concert choir in high-school because I'd have to sing a solo for the audition, I did not do debate or drama because the idea of talking in front of people terrified me. When I had to oral reports I stumbled over my words, turned red, and spent the next eighteen days beating myself with what I should have done better. When I spoke in church I was literally shaking--truly, the bishop bric would comment on my legs shaking like jelly--and my chest, neck and face would burn and be red to the extent that I could see my family trying not to laugh. It was awful and I was not good at it. I learned to wear long skirts so the shaking wasn't as noticeable and always wear a turtleneck--even in July. When I was asked to do my first few presentations as a writer I cried all the way home, embarrassed at my lack of skill.
However, things have changed and I've improved. I don't know that I consider myself a great public speaker, but I'm pleased with most of my presentations these days. As I've improved, my confidence has grown and it's become an essential part of my career. I do presentations to writing, church, school and book groups. I talk to fast, but I've learned to keep my voice low (people prefer a lower pitch to listen too), to make eye contact and to try and be funny. Some of this I learned simply by listening to other speakers and being determined to do better, but about a year ago I made a very good decision that helped me immensely.
Toastmasters. If, like me, you don't' know what toastmasters is, let me explain. It's an international group dedicated to helping it's members improve in confidence and specifically in public speeches. There are clubs everywhere, and I do mean everywhere--there are 12 within 20 miles of my home. I was only a member for six months, which isn't very long, and I hope one day to go back. However, even though my membership was short, what I learned was endless. I have no doubt that I'm a better presenter than I was before I started. I see speeches differently, I hold myself different, I prepare my presentations different and I don't shake or turn red like I used to because I'm more confident of myself than I ever was before. I'm much more aware of my audience and how to read them. Not only does Toastmasters allow you to prepare and presents speeches, they also train you to talk off the top of your head, how to use different elements of public speaking such as gestures, humor, timing, writing notes, stance, and other professional details. It was truly a fount of knowledge that I will always be grateful for. It's also a wonderful networking opportunity, as you will be surrounding yourself with people of similar goal and desire.
I know we're all busy, I know that one more thing is more like ONE MORE FREAKING THING, YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! but consider this an important aspect of your career. Even if you only give it six months, it will be worth the investment. Look up your local club and attend a meeting--you can do that without signing up, and see what Toastmasters might be able to offer you.