How do you feel about public speaking? Author talks? Writing workshops? If, like me, you’re the introverted kind of writer, more comfortable in the world of the imagination than out on centre stage, that part of the job can be as much ordeal as opportunity. But we all know how necessary those public appearances are, not only to promote our work, but also to give something back to the reading and writing community.
Some of us are naturally talented at presenting, with a bottomless well of entertaining anecdotes and a flowing, easy style. Some are good at it because they’ve worked hard to prepare. I’ve done a fair amount of presenting in the fifteen or so years I’ve been a professional writer, and I still get nervous every time. The easiest audience for me? Romance writers, because although their expectations are high, they are always warm, accepting and interested. The most challenging? School students.
Recently I was a guest at the Somerset Celebration of Literature, an amazing three-day event for young readers hosted by Somerset College in Queensland. I’d been invited to attend the 2009 festival, but my cancer diagnosis just before the event meant I had to cancel at the last minute. I was happy to go back as part of the author lineup this year. March 2014 marked my critical five year milestone for surviving breast cancer.
Although I’m far more comfortable presenting to an adult audience, I found the festival an overwhelmingly positive experience. It was not only excellently organised – a mammoth task for those involved as it is a large-scale event – but also brimming with enthusiasm, creativity and flair. Over the three days, approximately 15,000 students from the region attended workshops and author talks, and thirty-odd writers and illustrators were involved. My sessions were aimed at young adults, but there were workshops and activities for all ages.
It was a challenge to prepare for this event. They couldn’t tell me until a couple of days beforehand whether I’d be speaking to groups of 20 or 200. With small groups I generally include some practical work, but in a very big group that’s unmanageable. The lack of overhead projectors in my venues ruled out using visual images to help hold audience attention. I’m a control freak, a person who finds it hard to do things ‘on the hop’, so this was a real test. But it was also a learning experience, and I came away with some good tips for future events.