Lessons learned: public speaking and lectures

I just got back from lecturing at a workshop for aspiring writers that was put on at the Barnes & Noble in Metairie. I was the first one up, and my hour was devoted to: Goals, Motivation, and Conflict. I’m no stranger to public speaking, in fact I consider myself to be fairly good at it, but I realized (after the fact) that this was the first time I’d ever lectured on anything to do with the craft of writing. Since I still think of myself as up-and-coming at best, it turned out that I was not as self-assured (whether real or faked!) as usual. And, I discovered that being a sole lecturer in front of 20-30 people is far different and far more intimidating than being on a panel at a con, where you can play off of each other or sit back and say nothing if you have run out of things to say.

Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t go badly by any stretch of the imagination. I think I was able to get my points across and people seemed to enjoy the talk. But I certainly think I could have done a better job of it, and I’m hoping that I do so the next time I give a writing-related presentation.

So, I figured I would share with all of you a few of the things I learned during (and after) my lecture:

1) The material that you think will take 30 minutes to say will actually take 15, especially if you are like me and tend to talk faster when you’re slightly nervous. I went through my notes, glanced at my watch, and was shocked (and dismayed) to see that only fifteen minutes had passed.

2) Plan for being slightly nervous. I didn’t think I would be, since I’m used to public speaking, but since I was, in fact, a bit nervous, I had a much harder time thinking “off the cuff.”

3) As a corollary to #2, use note cards, even if you don’t think you’ll need them. I had three pages of notes typed out, but when you’ve run out of things to say and are bit nervous, it’s very hard to scan a page to see what you haven’t covered yet. Note cards would have made the presentation easier to keep track of.

4) Don’t depend on audience interaction. I had anticipated speaking for about 30 minutes, and then throwing it open to some interactive stuff. However, since I was first up, the audience was still fairly reticent and hesitant, and I had to work a bit to get them to respond and ask questions.

5) Have lots of examples ready. This was the biggest thing that could have helped me out. I’d decided to deconstruct Star Wars to show various examples of Goals, Motivation, and Plot. (That’s going to be my post for next Saturday!) Unfortunately, it didn’t take as long as I’d hoped to discuss what I wanted to discuss, and I was caught off guard by trying to think of other examples off the top of my head. (See #2) I could have prepared a number of “deconstructions”, and it would have been a far simpler matter to just not use some of them if I ran short on time.

6) Have a handout. The lecturers who followed me had handouts. I did not, and after seeing how effective it was for keeping the topics on track, I regretted not having one. It doesn’t need to be much–even just a page of the high points–but it gives people something to look at and take notes on.

7) Bring something to write on. This one I did do. I brought a folding easel and a large pad of paper, and I was very glad I did, especially since I had not brought a handout. Even though my scrawls were barely legible, it helped me focus my thoughts, and also helped me slow down a bit while I wrote stuff and drew arrows.

8 ) Wear clothes that don’t show sweat. See #2 again.


And, finally:


9) If you brought a recording device with you so that you could record your presentation, do your best to remember to turn it on and hit the record button. *facepalm*


–Diana Rowland

3 Responses to “Lessons learned: public speaking and lectures”

  1. 1 rachelaaron
    March 8, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    Haha, awesome! I’m sure it went awesomely. Personally, I have a deeply ingrained fear of talking about writing in public. I’ll yammer on about anything else, even subjects where I don’t know nearly as much as I’ve learned about putting words on paper (or screen, as the case may be), but somehow writing seems too personal to talk about in public. I mean, what works for me, like wikis, for example, may be a waste of someone else’s time. It’s a silly, irrational fear, and if I ever get invited to an event like that, I will definitely take your advice.

  2. March 14, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    Isn’t it lucky that you realized it was a first for you AFTER the lecture? Imagine how much more nervous you could have been if you’d thought of that beforehand 🙂

  3. January 9, 2018 at 11:56 pm

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