There were about thirty-five women at the meeting of the Ajax-Pickering chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women. I was invited to speak about my life as a writer, and since I find me so interesting I had no problem showing up for the talk.
But I can’t pretend that these women are going to be interested in reading my vampire apocalypse novels. The CFUW are a group of well-educated women, and I’d guess the median age in the room was fifty-five. This is not the kind of crowd that wants to read about machine guns and crossbows, slashed throats and desperate battles. They’re probably more the cosy murder mystery crowd. In fact, it’s unlikely they’d even read my coming-of-age Canadiana short stories that were first published in Storyteller Magazine. So why did I agree to speak despite the poor sales prospects?
Practice. I’m actually not very comfortable at the front of a crowd, but I’ve learned that as an author I need to be there if I want to sell. So I’ve appeared on panels at mystery and SF cons, and I accept all invitations to speak, and every time the adrenaline subsides, I review my performance with a critical eye.
Here’s what I learned last Wednesday.
First, I interrupted the moderator just as she began to introduce me, chopping her short and not giving her a chance. Oops. I was excited and nervous and launched right into my talk, stepping on her moment as it were. I should have taken a deep breath and remembered that they were there to hear me and would wait for the end (or in this case even the beginning) of the introduction.
Second: take my time. I still speak too quickly in front of a crowd. I shouldn’t be afraid to pause, check my notes and carrying on intelligently instead of relating the first stories about Afghanistan or bridge painting that pop to mind.
Third: Have better cue cards. There were some amusing anecdotes I had intended to share, like the time a mujahideen commander in Afghanistan told me I should shave because I didn’t look good with a beard–he was right.
But I did do one thing right that evening: I really had fun. Better yet, I think my audience had fun too.