I gave a presentation at Muskego High School last Tuesday. The daughter of my ex-boss is in charge of the Media Center and recommended my books to a teacher of Applied Composition an English elective for seniors. She gave the kids three options for memoirs to read, one was Lucky Bastard by Joe Buck, there was my book Dirty Shirt and there was a third one. Six of the students chose Dirty Shirt and so the teacher asked if I would be willing to come in and talk about the book.
Now, any time I have an audience where people took the time to buy, then read my book, I always jump at the chance. This is how you build an audience, but for me its as much about the personalization that comes with knowing an author. I know the readings I've gone to with some big authors have allowed me to put a face and a personality to the book. That takes the author/reader relationship to another level, in my opinion.
So I brushed off my PowerPoint presentation for the book, updated it and brought it into the classroom. There were probably 18-20 students whose attention I had for 50 minutes. I ran through the slides and inserted my jokes, stories and reading snippets throughout the presentation. I also showed the book trailer that we made for the book five years ago (Yikes!).
I can only say I was very, very impressed with the level of attention and engagement I had with the students. They were quiet, respectful and courteous. (And no one fell asleep, a bonus.)
But what occurred to me is how far I've come with regards to presenting in front of a group. What once struck the fear of God in me is now just another gig. As I've been forced to do it more and more with both of my books and my poetry, it has become much more natural and relaxed for me.
Sure there are anxious moments here and there, but overall, it is almost always a very positive experience for me. Part of it is being hyper-prepared. I always have a script or PowerPoint to go from and I work through the event in my head before taking the podium. Then, as with most of my public persona, I try and lighten things with a little humor. It warms up the audience and lets them know that this will be no TED talk, but it will be a lot of fun.
So while this may seem like a little thing to any of you who are energized or super proficient at public speaking, know that it is a huge thing for me. I still feel I am an introvert even though my wife claims I have moments of ambivert in me. For me it still takes everything in me to get up there and talk.
In the past, when the presentation was over, I was usually drained. That has changed a bit to where I am now almost a little energized. That is a huge shift for me.
At the same time, while I may seem totally comfortable talking to people, I am much more in my element alone on my laptop with my ear buds in writing the story I am telling you about. I fully realize though that the public speaking part of the craft is completely necessary and I'm committed to doing it the best I can.
It's a dragon I will slay, one talk at a time.