After nearly two years of being holed up, limited to Zoom and Crowdcast “appearances,” I took part in my first big in-person event last weekend.
I was a nervous wreck.
I’ve been out in public a few times. I interviewed my pal, Liz Milliron, at Mystery Lovers Bookshop for her new release in August. I taught a writing workshop at a local library. I set up a table at a small first responder community day event. All were fun. I remembered how much I loved seeing smiling faces (larger than the thumbnail size of Zoom squares) and hearing laughter and answering questions asked out loud rather than typed into a chatbox.
Last weekend, though, was the Festival of Books in the Alleghenies, and I was their keynote speaker at the Friday night fundraiser reception. The foundation that supports the festival was raising money for children’s literacy. The reception was held in an art museum. Classical piano music accompanied wine and hors d’oeuvres.
This wasn’t my first keynote. It wasn’t even my first keynote where classical piano was played. It was my first keynote in an art museum.
While public speaking doesn’t come naturally, it doesn’t terrify me. Usually. I used to teach yoga. Standing in front of a roomful of strangers, in yoga pants, doing downward facing dog versus standing in front of a roomful of strangers, in dress clothes, talking about writing? Piece of cake.
However, it’s been a while. My public-speaking skills were rusty. Normally, the nerves set in about an hour before I’m scheduled to step up to the mic and dissipate as soon as I start talking. This time, anxiety set in a couple of days prior to the event, growing as the evening approached. As we gathered in the museum, I considered a glass of wine to soothe my nerves. Wisely, I did not give in.
I’m a cheap drunk. One glass, I’d have been slurring and/or snoozing my way through the speech.
Thankfully, the gentleman who introduced me did a great job of warming up the audience. As usual, the nerves vanished as soon as I started talking. The real, live, faces in the crowd smiled back at me, laughed at the right moments, and appeared engaged in what I was saying. Even better, several audience members came up to me afterward to ask questions or tell me how my experience mirrored their own.
Looking back, it was a wonderful evening. And the festival the following day was wonderful as well.
I had one more speaking gig there—I did a short reading from my newest book. But those words had already been written. All I had to do was put on my glasses and follow the script.
Overall, it was awesome to get out in public again, to exercise my public speaking muscles, and to not have to worry about my internet crashing in the middle of a Zoom meeting.
What about you? Have you been able to use your face-to-face people skills yet? If so, did they feel rusty?