Monday, May 7, 2012

How Not to Bomb

I am thrilled to have the talented Alice Osborn, from Write From the Inside Out, guest posting for me today!  She’s sharing some great advice that will help you better prepare for your next public speaking engagement. Take it away, Alice! 

Alice Osborn
Thank you so much, Maria, for allowing me a spot on your lovely blog! My name is Alice Osborn. I am a poet, speaker and editor. I live in Raleigh, NC, where I help writers become authors and better businesspeople.

When you’re nervous before a reading, open mic or a speaking event you’re that way because you don’t want to bomb . You don’t want to be humiliated and asked never to come back.  You also don’t want to let your audience down. Maybe you’ve had a less-than-ideal speaking experience and you’re afraid lightning will strike twice. I’d like to share a few tips with you on how not to bomb, or at least how to bomb less! Now, let go of your nervousness and give your best performance to the people who have come to see you!

Alice's Latest Book
Know Your Audience
If you’re an author giving a reading, know your audience! Are they familiar with your work or are they completely new to it? If they are new to it, warm them up by telling them why they’ll love your work and use humor! If you’re the first speaker, you won’t have a lot of material to riff about except complimentary stuff about the venue, the hosts and the warm crowd, but if you’re performing after an open mic segment or after another speaker, talk up the folks who have  gone before you and give them a little love. Doing so will endear you to your audience.

I had a little issue with a speaking engagement when I realized that my talk was geared towards entrepreneurs and not corporate employees. Oh, boy! I should have asked my speaking coordinator who my audience was so I could prepare. But here I was and I spoke to them about how being creative and flexible would make them more effective in their presentations—something from the entrepreneur world that they may not deal with on a daily basis.

Collect Stories             
As you go about your life, collect anecdotes that will resonate with your audience and that will help you break the tension. Just be sure that they’re relevant to you and your reading.

Show Up Early
When you show up early rather than on time you give yourself the chance to arrange the room and get a feel for the acoustics. I’ve shown up early at gigs and have rearranged the chairs to go from a classroom to a U-pattern—it’s made all of the difference!

Don’t drink too much
This applies more at a reading or an open mic, but don’t drink even if you think it’ll help you when it’s your turn at the mic. Drink plenty of water and when you’re all through, then have your favorite adult beverage.

Rehearse your talk and material ahead of time—mark your pages if you’re reading from your book so you’re not thumbing randomly. Check to see where you’re stumbling and adjust. Time your talk so you’re going over or under. Preparing is vital for success and I consider this my most important tip.

Possessing strong speaking skills as an author is vital for your continued success.  You might also consider using video to record your performances and then later see what you could have done better.

Your Turn

OK, so those are my tips on how not to bomb. What have I missed? Please feel free to add a few more suggestions in the comments for us!

Alice, thank you so much for joining me today!  You’ve given us some wonderful and very helpful tips. Public speaking may not be a part of marketing enjoyed by the introverted authors among us, but as you mentioned above, strong speaking skills are vital for continued success.  Thanks for showing us how not to bomb! 

Alice Osborn, M.A. is the author of three books of poetry, After the Steaming Stops, Unfinished Projects, and Right Lane Ends; she helps authors become business people and business people become authors. Alice teaches creative writing all over the country where she uses sensory images and road-tested prompts to stimulate her students’ best work. Her work has appeared in the News and Observer, The Broad River Review, The Pedestal Magazine, Soundings Review and in numerous journals and anthologies. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband and two children. Visit her website at


Maria McKenzie said...

Alice, thank you again for posting with me today and sharing some great advice! So much emphasis is put on social networking today, but there's nothing like connecting personally with a "real" audience:). Public speaking is so important in marketing and connecting with people!

Old Kitty said...

I am in total awe at you wonderful authors and writers speaking and/or giving a reading to an audience! It's definitely an amazing skill!! It really looks so nerve racking but I know these tips help! Yay!

Thanks Maria, thanks Alice! Take care

Norma said...

I took a public speaking course in college. I've never had a problem doing interviews--my publisher actually thought I was good at it (go figure). But I hated having to stand up in front of a group and speak. When I did workshops at writers conferences, I always opted for a more informal approach.

Maria McKenzie said...

@Old Kitty: I think the more you do it, the easier it gets:).

@Norma: I took the Dale Carnegie course several years ago and it really helped me with public speaking. I don't mind it, but I'm so relieved when it's over!

Alice Osborn said...

thanks so much again for posting me today on your fantastic blog and @Old Kitty and @Norma for the comments. It all comes down to preparation and knowing your audience. Alice:)

Maria McKenzie said...

Alice, you're welcome, and thank you!

Jennette Marie Powell said...

I took Dale Carnegie many years ago for my day job, and had little problem standing in front of a group of dozens of customers to talk about our marketing services. I was prepared, but used very little in the way of notes, and it seemed to work well. I don't know if I'd have the guts to do a reading - I tend to stumble over my words when reading (yes, even my own)!

Maria McKenzie said...

Jennette, if you can do a presentation in front of dozens of customers with hardly any notes (that would terrify me), you should have no trouble doing a reading--it just takes practice:). If I don't practice, I stumble over the words too!

William Kendall said...

Excellent tips and advice, Alice, and thank you for posting on it!

Maria, thanks for letting her have the blog today!

Intangible Hearts said...

Those are wonderful ideas and I hope I'll remember some of them the next time I need to speak. My biggest problem is that when I speak in front of others I start going faster and faster and say all the wrong things just from being nervous.