Unaccustomed to Public Speaking that I am …

Seriously.  Writers are supposed to write, right?  Yet more and more often, I find myself in the position of needing to write a speech – and then give it.


Anyone who knows me, knows I have a tendency to talk.  Sometimes, a lot.  (They don’t call me Windy Cindy for no reason)  But when it comes to public speaking, well, let’s just say, it rattles me.  PUBLIC speaking, as opposed to social speaking, comes with expectations.  You are expected to be intelligent, clever, funny, poignant, informed and poised.  You are expected to stand in front of a group of expectant (there’s that word again) people, who are expecting (redundant!!!) to be entertained, enlightened, and oh, so glad they came to hear you.  There are probably a whole lot of other things that I should know about public speaking and don’t and obviously haven’t mastered.  Perhaps that’s why I’m rattled.  What kind of glaring errors might I make when I address a crowd of (fill in the blank, you know the word) people?


So, why am I telling you this?  Because I have a big speech coming up on Thursday.  Every year for close to 30 years now a local college holds a two day  conference called Beyond Rubies.  Beyond Rubies is for women, about women and dedicated to women.  It’s a very prestigious event.  It’s known for wonderful workshops and dynamic speakers.  I feel very honored to have been invited to be a keynote speaker – and very scared.


That’s right.  I’ve reached the point where I’m trying to remember exactly what it was that prompted me to say yes to their invitation.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to have been asked, but the panic has set in now.  Are they going to like what I have to say?  Will I sound stupid?  Will I freeze? Will they laugh when they’re supposed to?  Will I remember anything that I’ve prepared?  Will I have toilet paper stuck to my heel?  Will my skirt be tucked up into my underwear?  Will I freeze when I look out over the crowd and realize that I’m in way over my head?

speaker images

Yes, people, these are the thoughts that plague me every time I’m faced with a speaking engagement.  And yet, I always manage to get through it and I actually start to enjoy myself about five minutes into the monologue and I wonder why I agonize EVERY TIME.

Does anyone else have to give presentations or speeches or present workshops and go through the same thing?  Or are you one of those amazing people who thrives on the challenge and lives for the exposure?  If so, any tips for this flailing keynote speaker who probably won’t get a good night’s sleep between now and Thursday will be GREATLY appreciated.  Please comment.  My, ahem, expectations are as low as my confidence level.


About cindygerard

Cindy Gerard is a New York Times best-selling author of action packed romantic suspense novels. Learn more about Cindy at http://www.cindygerard.com
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39 Responses to Unaccustomed to Public Speaking that I am …

  1. kris says:

    I give speeches/presentations all the time and have done it for many years. I’ve done it in front of large or small groups and plenty of times overseas where the audience does not have English as a first language, so you’d think my logic would say it increases the chance that they might not notice if I mess up. But, I still get extremely anxious every single time. *sigh*

  2. Cindy Gerard says:

    I so hear you Kris. And wow. I can’t imagine speaking to an audience where English is not their first language. Kudos to you for making it work.

  3. Sharyn Polesel says:

    I have always been nervous about speaking in front of a crowd. I remember in school begging the teacher to let me do two written book reports to keep from doing one oral one.

    When my daughter got married, she asked me to read a bible verse during the ceremony. I was a nervous wreck, but I did it. The priest gave me a nod as I was going back to my seat, so I guess it was okay. lol

    • I don’t mind public speaking but reading a Bible versus would make me a nervous wreck.

    • Cindy Gerard says:

      Sharyn I can so relate to reading in class. I vividly remember 4th grade. We all had to take turns reading aloud and got out assignment the day before. I would get so upset just anticipating it that I wouldn’t sleep, made myself sick and when it came time to read, I would get so tongue tied and terrified that I’d end up crying. that’s a LOT of pressure for a little kid to put on herself. My wonderful teacher finally got me through that period – thank Goodness – or I’d still be freezing today.
      And good for you for conquering your fears and reading at your daughter’s wedding!

  4. Kathleen O says:

    I have made a few prsentations and speeches in my lifetime… Some I do great and some I feel my audience is internally yelling “Get it over with…please!!!. you win some you loose some.. Just be yourself and go for it…What’s the worse that can happen, they just don’t ask you to speak next year…

  5. Leanne says:

    Cindy you will be fabulous as always and they will love love love you! For me, the best way to reduce my anxiety is preparation! Go Cindy!:) xo, Leanne

    • Cindy Gerard says:

      Thanks, Leanne. and yes – preparation is key. But I also find that if I over prepare I can do myself in too. It’s a delicate balance. I wonder if Tequila might help :ol)

  6. michelehauf says:

    Congrats on the gig, Cindy! That is awesome! I think you’ll do fine.

    I hate speaking in public, and can admit Speech and Mass Media was the one and only class I ever got a D in, in high school. I avoid it now at all costs. That said, when I have to speak at my local writers’ chapter, I find that to begin by saying something like ‘Hey, I’m nervous when I speak in public, I blush, and my fingers shake, so please don’t laugh too hard’ seems to sort of get me over it. It’s like I confessed my shame in advance, so then it doesn’t strike so hard when I speak. Usually within five minutes, I’m fine and rambling. 😉

  7. Pam Stack says:

    I love public speaking. I’ve done motivational speaking and professional training for years now. Was invited to speak before the Florida Executive Branch and the Florida Supreme Court and other elected officials, law enforcement and the general public. I’ve spoken to groups as large as 10,000 and as small as 2. If you know your subject and are passionate, I think it’s easier.

    I have a feeling that you’ll do just fine, Cindy, You’re a talented and creative author and know your subject. Just let your passion speak for you! And good luck!

    • Cindy Gerard says:

      Wow, Pam. I’m impressed! 10,000? I think the largest group I’ve spoken to was around 800. And it was hair raising …

      • Pam Stack says:

        800/8000. It’s all the same Cindy. Just as you can write thousands and thousands of words to put together a book, you can speak to those words. You know your process and have confidence in it. Focus on one or two in the audience who you might know and direct what you have to say to them. Smile. you’re there to entertain and you should enjoy yourself too. imagine yourself being at an intimate book reading and just go! You’ll do fine, I’m so sure. And good luck. please let us know how it goes. I’ll be sending out lil wee prayers and positive thoughts for ya! ; )

  8. I have never been comfortable in front of large groups. I really hated rhetoric in college and the speeches we had to give. I have heard many celebrities including singers say they get very nervous before going on stage. I think it is a part of human nature. Just remember that everyone in that audience is glad it is you and not them on that stage….show them who you are! Start them off with a little humor and you will have them!

  9. Yikes! You hit a nerve since my first “big” public speaking event is next month. Like you, I have no idea why I accepted an invitation from my city’s public library to speak at a local author lunch event, but I’m in promotion mode for my novel (LEGACY OF THE HIGHLANDS), and so I said an enthusiastic, “yes!” My heart then began to race. The best advice I’ve received is that people are there because they’re curious. They want to like you. The audience is your friend. I don’t think they expect writers to be comedians. They come because they want to know more about you, writing, and how your book came to be. You already know the answers! I plan to jot down a few key reminder words on index cards as a security blanket and then just do it. Good luck, Cindy and let us know how it goes.

    • Cindy Gerard says:

      I LOVE speaking to readers. As a rule they are friendly, curious and accepting. This group will not be writers but I’m sure they will be curious. And a few key reminder words? Wow. You’re good. I need a lot more ink than that to get me through a major speech.
      Good luck with yours. I’m sure you’ll do great!

      • The reason for “only” a few reminder words isn’t that I’m good, it’s that my eyes tend to unfocus when I’m nervous and the BIG BLOCK LETTER words remind me of what I want to say. Memorization and nerves aren’t a good fit either.
        A long Q & A session midway through gets the audience involved and takes the pressure off you.
        As an aside, I’ve found that those who are good writers are not the best speakers. Our form of communication is via our fingers!

  10. Linda says:

    Cindy I feel your pain- I am not as bad as I was in college when had to take speech classes and take oral exam. Let’s just say prior to each presentation I spent time in bathroom paying homage to the porcelin god. I still occasionally have to speak to more then individual clients and still get nervous- but I usually have a prop ( animal) to hide behind now. The best advice that I can give is to focus above the crowd and not look at anyone the first paragraph then once relaxed (ha if you can) pick out one or two people to look at. I think you will do fine once you get past the first Hey Y’all. And if all else fails have a glass of wine before hand.

  11. Cindy, you exude such charm and warmth, and have such a wonderful sense of humor in front of an audience that you will blow them away. They will love you. They’re already excited over the chance to be in the same room with not only an author, but a NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLING AUTHOR, and you could probably read the phone book and still have them enthralled. 🙂 And none of them are published writers like you are, so they will hang on every word–and won’t even know if you make some itsy bitsy error. 🙂

    There will be some familiar faces there, too–Elaine H and Denise, old members of from HIFA, are coming especially to hear you.

    You’ll knock ’em dead!

  12. I agree with Harriet. Remembering that the audience is on your side always helps. And they are–otherwise they wouldn’t be there. Also, what Leanne said. Preparation. If I try to wing it, I ramble. I like to use note cards, but if I’m really anxious about the talk, I print the whole thing out in a large font, and I practice. Wouldn’t a teleprompter be nice? (I applaud President Obama for using one–he’s a terrific speaker, knows what works for him and doesn’t care what the detractors say about using it.) Some (few) people do fine off the cuff, but more often the people who think they can wing it really can’t. Or shouldn’t. I know whereof I speak on that score. I’ve embarrassed myself a time or two.

    The old adage “Tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ’em, tell ’em, and then tell ’em what you told ’em” is worth remembering. And I would add, tell ’em in your own way. Be yourself. You’re the one that they want!

    • Cindy Gerard says:

      Great advice, Kathy tell ’em, tell ’em and tell ’em again. Maybe that’s why I find this so daunting – we writer are supposed to SHOW not TELL :o)

      And I’m in the print it out in large font camp too :o)

  13. Bethany says:

    A wise speech professor I had in college told us to make eye contact because it not only helps you feel connected with the audience, but it helps them to feel more involved with you on a personal level as well. Be sure to drink and stay hydrated. Let your warm personality shine through, and remember to move around a bit. Some relaxed movement is natural and it helps lower stress. An obvious one that we sometimes forget when we’re nervous…remember to breathe, lol. Smile! I’ve seen lots of your photos. You’ve got a beautiful one. You’re smile is warm and genuine, and it will also help you to relax. Ease up on the caffeine, it tends to work against self-soothing efforts. I’m sure there are more tips, but, you probably already know all this stuff. Sometimes it’s just good to think about it all and put everything in the proper perspective. And while this speech may be a new situation for you, and there’s a lot to be said for having a humble approach like you do, don’t sell yourself short. You’re a pro, you’ll be just fine!

    Let us know how it goes. Sending good thoughts!

    • Cindy Gerard says:

      Great advice, Brittany. Breathe. I always forget that part. And as a rule I don’t do caffeine – I’m wired enough as it is LOL
      And thanks for being so sweet.

  14. christieridgway says:

    I have spoken many times and I am always nervous. Plus, I speak really, really fast and though I try to be slower every time, I never make it. I’m like you, in that I do get more relaxed as it goes along. I know you’ll do great and what an honor!

    Years ago, during one of my first speeches, everybody said, “Talk slower!” and my beloved (now deceased) critique partner yelled back, “Think faster!”

  15. Stephenia says:

    Start with a fun passage from one of your books, something to grab their attention, you can actually read it if you’re nervous, (they’ll all be straining their eyes to see the hot cover guy) – then you can lead from there into your “story” of being a writer. I think most people are genuinely interested in what a speaker has to say, I seem to have the same questions about writers (where do you get your ideas, how did you get started, how do you learn your characters?) If you’ve thought out a number of the questions/answers ahead of time and practiced your presentation then it should be a breeze. Prepare just a bit more info than you think you need. Have a few ideas to switch gears if something isn’t working (go back to a favorite passage or show some hot guy covers). Wear comfortable clothes, hair, makeup and get up early enough to have a light breakfast, coffee and the ever important potty break. Eye contact freak you out, then look just beyond their shoulder. I’m sure you’re gonna do great. I teach part time, some days it feels like all the beady eyes are on me, especially when the class is new! Good luck – I’m sure you’ll rock it!

    • Cindy Gerard says:

      Thanks Stephenia. Great advice. And I wish this was more of a question and answer session but I’m kind of the entertainment. They are looking for a humorous, entertaining speech – hopefully, I’ll deliver. Wednesday is practice day so I’ll make certain I have it all fresh in my mind. Now if I don’t lose my mind, I’ll be in good shape :o)

  16. Michele as the right of it! When I have to do emergency training workshops, there is not enough Valium on the planet to keep me calm. I start off by telling the audience that I am nervous and more afraid of them than any natural disaster; that I am calmer in a tornado than I am standing there. Gets a laugh and gives me that, “feel good”, a smile on a person’s face always brings. That helps me over the initial terror!

    Best of luck on your monologue! Know you are going to knock their socks off – we will want to hear all about it!

    • Cindy Gerard says:

      thanks KCS – and wow. the thought of fighting a fire kind of puts things in perspective What have I got to be nervous about – I’m just giving a speech!

      • One of those things where you don’t really “think”, you just “do”. Instinct, training, knowledge – it’s all there; just let it flow and you have it made. Speech, seminar, workshop, fire, tornado … all the same to me – nothing is going to keep me dry! LOL!!

  17. Been thinking about you this morning, Cindy. Hope all is going (or went) well with your Keynote appearance! 🙂

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