Thursday, September 11, 2008

On humility

Okay okay okay, get mad, please, I am so sorry I haven't posted in so long. I have been quite busy with my current writing project, and I have had a lot of strange events in the past few days. The film festival was in town as some of you may know and I have a few friends in the television industry who dragged me out to some parties . . . sounds glamorous but when you don't know anyone there it is more like otherworldly.

Anyway, excuses excuses.

Now to the act of posting!

What I wanted to write about today was something different about the publishing industry, but definitely something I have learned over the last year or so and I wanted to share. As I am wont to do.

When you are an author you start getting opportunities that you never had before. Suddenly you are inundated with invites to book launches (which for the most part I suggest you accept because they are usually a lot of fun), you are interviewed and reviewed (seriously amazing and terrifying at the same time), and also . . . you may be asked to do panels at conferences, give readings, or something of that nature.

It is the latter request I wanted to discuss today.

I have already written a four part series on tips for reading aloud (you can find it in my sidebar), so that isn't really what I want my focus to be on. What I wanted to talk about with you lovely folks is humility.

Or rather that "why on earth are they asking me to do this and I really shouldn't be here and I feel really stupid and any second now they are all going to realise that I am a fraud and I should really just go home" feeling.

Humility is always a good thing. But paralysing insecurity . . . not so much.

So here's the important lesson for today. When you are asked to give a presentation, or sit on a panel, or do a reading, you have been asked because the person doing the asking wanted you there. You may not understand why, you may think you were a last minute replacement, but the fact is someone wanted you up in front of people sharing your words of wisdom.

We may think we have no words of wisdom. Or we may think we have a few, but that that might come across as arrogant. We may think nothing but just feel absolute terror. So here is my recommendation: Instead of thinking of how woefully inadequate you are, or how nervous you are or whatever, think of that person that asked you to present. Think of your audience that put in the effort to come and see you. And think how insulting it would be to them if you told them, "Actually your judgment is way off. I am not worth your time, and the fact that you came here to see me is a huge mistake."

Yup, we audiences really love being told we are stupid, have no taste, and make a huge errors in judgment.

So what do you do? You suck it up. You realise that despite your own insecurities there is a reason you were invited to this event and you will make sure the people who were so gracious as to come are given the best darn speaker in the history of time. You thank them for attending, for being such a great crowd and then . . .

You speak with authority. You tell stories of your road to publication. You offer the few tidbits of knowledge you have gleaned along the way (*like this post*). You read from your novel.

And afterwards when people come up to you and tell you what a great time they had and how well you spoke, you say, "Thank you." You don't say, "Really, because I don't think I was clear about how that cow totally destroyed my car . . ." Again, don't insult your audience by letting them know that they were wrong in enjoying your talk.

Of course it is nice if you get the chance to ask them some questions, to have a real dialogue, at this point. We don't want this non-humility thing to turn into hubris (something about which I will blog next time).

But still.

Say, "Thank you."

Then you can go home, leap onto your bed, and sob into your pillow remembering all the mistakes you made in your presentation, and how you tripped up onto the platform and your hand was so obviously shaking holding the mic.

But at least you honoured your audience and host with respect at the event. And that's the most important thing.


Cate Gardner said...

What has to be my worst nightmare? Public speaking.

I can guarantee I would have no words of siwdom only a sudden case of stammering and gobbledegook.

Janet said...

That's good advice. There is a profound difference between humility and self-abnegation. And you are so right about accepting compliments. A simple thank-you is one of the best ways to respond. There is no point in telling people to their faces that they have lousy judgment. That's false humility and a lack of graciousness.

ORION said...

This is SUCH a great post!
and wow janet took the big word I wanted to use...
I guess us former high school teachers at least learned how to stand up in front of people who don't want us there lol!

Anonymous said...

Great words of advise from been there done that . I can relate as I remember the time I was asked to give a university business class one hour of my wisdom. When I reached the podium, I tossed my notes, spoke from experience, and invited interaction from those hungry eager eyes that anxiously waited for me to speak.

Robert Meacham

Jordan McMakin said...

Thank you for hightlighting such an overlooked topic! You have such excellent insight. I published a book independently once and so have a bit of experience with school visits and panel discussions. I wish so badly I was a better public speaker, but one thing that helped me was to take the focus off myself and ask: What can I do for the audience? How can I help them? For some reason this made presenting easier.

Great post! I love your blog so much!!

Anonymous said...

You are so right, Adrienne. And I guess the same advice applies to any kind of public speaking, or meeting.

One of the things that put me off (for a short while) taking a promotion at work was the need to attend lots of client facing meetings. I was pretty nervous for the first few, but soon realised that I was there to contribute my knowledge and offer my opinion. I'm still a little nervous nowadays, but no-one else can tell!

Glad you're back blogging!


Adrienne said...

catherine - when the time comes, I guarantee in turn, you will know what to say (even if it scares the shoot out of you). That was actually the point of the post. Don't make it about you, make it about your audience. When you do that you'll find you'll have a greater ability to speak in front of people. Trust me, you can do it!

janet - And I shall practice what I preach . . .Thank you Janet!

Orion - now now girls, there are plenty of big words to go around. I have to say though Orion, I have never been more scared than when I had to do a presentation in front of teenagers. Talk about a tough crowd!

Robert - thank you! And you also bring up a good point, sometimes it is less nerve wracking to throw away those carefully prepared notes, sometimes working with what the audience is giving you makes for a much stronger presentation.

charmalot - thank you so much, you are so sweet! And doesn't turning the idea around work magic? Once it's not about you anymore it becomes so much more manageable to handle. (love your name btw!)

dj - thanks, and yes, this works for just about every performance, including acting. Often actors take it all in, make it all about themselves on stage being seen by the audience. If instead they work at being on stage with someone, working as part of an ensemble, basically it NOT being all about themselves . . . the performance is so much better all round.

(yeah, I know, my blogging has been poor of late . . . I hope to remedy it this week!)

Melanie Hooyenga said...

Welcome back! Great post. Nothing I need to worry about, but your points can be applied for many things in life.