I don’t like public speaking. I know lots of people feel the same way, that my fears are as common as mud, but it still frustrates me. I think the problem is that I cannot quite understand it. I like to talk. Really like to talk. I like people and I enjoy socializing. I was even on a debating team at high-school. Not only that but I coached a junior debating team. That, my friends, is an entirely new depth of nerd. That’s deep, dark nerd. So… why do I feel ill when I have to make a speech?
Last week I launched my third book, A French Wedding, at Sydney’s Better Read Than Dead bookstore. It was lovely. Family were there – Matt and the girls, in-laws, cousins, nieces and nephews. Four of my gorgeous-est friends flew over from Melbourne for it. Pan Macmillan crew – Matilda Imlah, Clare Keighery and Hayley Nash – all turned up to give their support. Sixty fat kouign amann, the sticky breton pastry that features in the book, stuffed with soft, creamy custard, languished on platters. The room was filled with chatter, good will and love. Still felt ill.
My friend Brad, one of Team Melbourne, my brides-mate, was early and joined me in the bookstore’s kitchenette slicing the kouign amann into halves before everyone else arrived. The girls kept coming in, pulling on my trouser legs and threatening destruction. We made jokes about not having “staff” to slice pastries for me (mwah ha ha). I told him I felt sick about making a speech. He was puzzled and surprised too. ‘Sick just at the beginning or the whole way through?’ he asked, confused.
I’m sure I wouldn’t feel so nauseous if I were being interviewed or if my only obligation was to read something written down. I love being asked questions and I love reading aloud. Curiously, Matt feels the exact opposite. He’d much rather make up a speech from scratch, on the spot, without notes. Even the thought of which makes me want to avoid lunch. I feel completely lost without a) interaction or b) notes. In my debating days I used to write my speech out word for word. When we were encouraged to use tiny cue cards small enough to fit in our palms I simply wrote in smaller font. So it was with jangling nerves and roiling stomach juices that I stepped up, sans notes, to make my speech just as I was intercepted by my friend Faith (her actual name, not just a virtue, but yes, Irony).
‘How are you feeling?’ she asked. ‘Ill.’ I replied mutinously. ‘You felt like that last time.’ she said sagely (she is a serial book launch attendee). ‘Yeah, you’d think I’d be better at this by now.’ I said, a bit mad at myself. The voice in my head was scolding. Faith assessed my shrewdly and then tipped her head towards to the two girls in floral dresses and adventuring boots. My girls. I glanced over to them, hanging out with their older cousins. ‘You know…they’re at an age now that they will probably remember this.’ Faith said ‘Don’t you think that’s cool? That they will remember their Mum launching her book?’
I cast my mind back to the morning, when I had admitted my fears to my eldest. I asked if she had ever felt scared talking to a big group. She said she did, that she felt really scared when she had to do “News” to her class. I asked her for advice (six year olds are old enough to give out advice, right?) and she said she just used her courage and felt better when they asked questions. Right. Courage. I gave Faith a hug that could more accurately be described as a full body clamp and shored myself up.
I muddled through the initial speech bit, “using my courage”, then moved on to doing a reading of the book. After that I answered questions and, as eldest gal had suggested, I felt better during that part. When it was all done I could enjoy a taste of kouign amann, sign books and chat. All was suddenly well with the world once more. The launch was a great success. It was wonderful to see everyone that has given me so much support throughout the process, to give them thanks in person, and to send the book out into the world surrounded by all that love and encouragement. All the copies of the book that were in store sold on the night and there were plenty of kouign amann for everyone to take home.
When it was all over (cue cliches about eye-blinks) I returned to feeding the babe and being Mama. I was very relieved to have the public speaking behind me, though the other parts – chatting and kouign amann devouring – went a bit too fast in the end. I know that my public speaking fears will improve with practice (surely?), though the thought of putting the practice in still makes me squeamish. But I am determined to persevere. Not just for the sake of my books, which deserve their chance to do as well as they can out there in the world, but also for the reason Faith supplied just as I was about to speak: my girls watching on. If my six year old can use her courage then so can I. It’s important for my girls to see me make an attempt, even if it’s not a stellar outcome. Just try, I’ll urge myself, in the gentle kind of voice I’d use to encourage them.
*A huge thank you to everyone that attended the Australian launch of A French Wedding, it was such a pleasure to see you there and feel your encouragement. Good news if you are based in New Zealand – A French Wedding will launch here at 6.30pm, May 18th at Flagstaff Gallery, Victoria Road, Devonport, Auckland. All are welcome and I would love to see you there. Here is the link to book a spot! I am currently on the hunt for an Auckland-based supplier of kouign amann….*