It will not come as a shock to anyone who has met me in person that I am not a natural talker. I am comfortable in silence, or at least in staying silent while the world surrounds me with its endless noise. In conversations, I typically end up following the lead of a more talkative person, quite happy to listen while occasionally commenting, asking questions, making puns, or interjecting random sympathetic noises. When it is down to me to take the lead in conversing, I’m hesitant, sometimes stuttery, and often my sentences wander off when I realize I have no idea how they’re supposed to end.
So you’d think that there are certain aspects of self-promotion that would be more difficult for me–doing interviews and participating on panels at conventions, for instance. These do, in fact, elevate my anxiety levels, and I’m usually looking forward most to the experience being over, so that I can scuttle back to my silent comfort zone. But then the weirdest thing happens — I’m doing the interview or participating on the panel, and I find I’m enjoying it. I’m chattering away–still hesitant, stuttery, and sometimes meandering–but I don’t care because I’m talking about things that I love–the strange places I find ideas, my influences, and things I’m writing.
Take the interview I did with Greg Walker on A Cup of Coffee and a Good Book a couple days ago. Between a desire to be ‘on’ and sound like I actually had something to say, my usual pre-speaking anxieties, and a couple large mugs of coffee, I was dialed up toward the high end of my talking abilities. (It also helped that Greg’s a good conversationalist, keeping me going while keeping me from meandering too far afield from talking about Brutal Light. People like me are helped a lot by people like him.) We probably could have gone on for a lot longer than the half-hour of the show.
As for panels, the four I was on for ConClave helped ease my mind on the prospect of my clamming up in the presence of other writers who were better talkers who could gab at length. I was less caffeinated at these events, but was determined to put in my commentary and not be That Guy. To my surprise, I enjoyed the give-and-take, and had fun. (Though, being that they were ninety minute panels, as opposed to the usual sixty, I can’t say they would have gone on for a lot longer than the assigned time.)
The key for me in both situations was preparation. A couple of the panels–the ones on social media marketing and the future of publishing–I did some advance reading on, to give myself a better idea of what the issues and sub-issues were, and to get me thinking on things I’d only nebulously thought about before, if at all. For the interview, I went over the guest interviews and guest blogs I’d done for my virtual book tour, just to refresh myself on how I’d answered some questions and to get me in an expositional frame of mind. (One thing I added that was not in the blog tour–my relating of dark fantasy to noir films and fiction.) It’s a lot easier for me to be ‘on’ when I’m prepared to be ‘on.’
So… it turns out that The Public Speaking is not quite so vexing for me as I’d expected it to be. Of course, it still stirs anxiety, in roughly inverse proportion to the amount of time until I have to do it. But now I also feel like I’m looking forward to it as well… and that’s a good feeling.
***Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light and several previously published and forthcoming short stories. He can be found via his website, his blog A Taste of Strange, as @gwox on Twitter, and in many other far-flung places on the Internet.