I’ve given readings, taught classes at my workplace, and spoken in public many times, and I still get very crazed before I have to do any kind of public speaking. No amount of asking why do I do it to myself? why can’t I let my experience ease my mind? helps calm me.
I experienced the worst stress during the weeks leading up to the launch and first reading and signing of my memoir Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving his Suicide at my local bookstore, Pages.
I was almost beside myself – I couldn’t sleep, I kept going over and over my script, I kept changing my mind about what I would read, and of course I worried that no one would even show up to listen to me once I managed to get up to speak.
I tried deep breathing exercises, I tried meditation, and I rehearsed the words I planned to say over and over in my mind. But nothing helped. I couldn’t stop the panic. This time it was all about me and the book that I had just put out into the world. That it was out there terrified me, and that I had to speak about it in public terrified me even more.
A few months before, I had read an article about book signings and readings, and the advice was to read for no more than ten minutes. Otherwise the audience would start nodding off. So after a few tries I picked a short prose piece, purposely chosen not to reveal much of the dark nature of my story. I also asked the other three main characters in the book, my husband, son, and daughter-in-law to each read a poem that I chose for each of them to read – just to make the reading a little more interesting (my memoir has a lot of my original poems in it). As the article advised I printed out the chosen excerpts in large font rather than try to read them from the book. And as suggested, I practiced the reading three or four times the day before.
What was most surprising about this whole experience was once I got to the day, I began to calm down. I attribute that to four things: one, my writing friend arrived from Oakland and generously gave me her “been there, done that” advice; two, the bookstore offered a podium instead of their “normal “author-speaks-from-a-chair” presentation mode; three, the bookstore owner called in the afternoon to tell me they had already run out of books. She asked me to bring more – lots more, and four, when I arrived an hour early and one of my invitees was already there, just visiting with her took away all of my nervousness.
And in case you’re wondering, the rest of the night went off without a hitch. My launch and reading was a huge success. People from all parts of my life attended: high school friends, former work colleagues, neighbors, friends from the Los Angeles area and Las Vegas, Ojai, San Diego, and Oakland, and many family members. In addition people I didn’t know came as a result of a wonderful article about my book in our neighborhood newspaper, The Beach Reporter
The room was filled with standing room only during my reading, andmany people had to wait in line for me to sign their books. In all, the event resulted in the sale of sixty-one books - with some people buying two or three.
Makes me think, why did I worry?
Causes Madeline Sharples Supports
Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center, Culver City, CA
Vistamar School, El Segundo, CA
Crossroads School, Santa Monica, CA (Endowment in...