Tag Archives: public speaking

Reading Recap: I Got Upstaged

12 Nov

I was completely upstaged at my last reading.

The last time I read at a Storytellers event at The Penny Farthing, I read a portion from my memoir about growing up Greek American.  I decided to mix it up a bit this last time.  Since I’ve been working really hard these days on Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, I selected a snippet from one of its chapters.  The reading itself went well.  A friend I hadn’t seen in forever surprised me by showing up, so that was super encouraging.  And one of the other performers shared their own travel experiences before it was my turn, so that was a nice little connection.  All of the performers — poets, musicians, monologists — were incredible.  Everyone was so talented and their artistry felt so effortless.

But we were all upstaged when the last poet takes to the mic.  The entire evening the MC had been playing the role of standup comic with eye-roll-inducing pick up lines.  When she announced the last poet, he started reciting a love poem to his girlfriend.  Then he stepped away from the microphone and opened a little box.  The room went wild!  His girlfriend went wild!  He had proposed!  It was like something out of a movie.  So sweet, so beautiful.

He stole the show.

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God Has a Sense of Humor — Either That or Everything I Think I Know about Myself Is Wrong

10 Aug

 

My mother always told me God has a sense of humor.  I believe her.

Growing up, I was terribly shy.  Perhaps because I felt so uncomfortable speaking, I turned to writing.  There, in the safety of my Hello Kitty journal, I could express my innermost fears, my hurts, and also my dreams and loves and cherished memories.

As I grew up, I continued to write.  I wrote for my high school newspaper and became copywriter for my high school yearbook, and when I went off to college I submitted poetry to my college’s paper.  While still an undergrad, I worked my way up from staff writer to editor in chief of a local indie newspaper and also began interviewing musicians for national magazines.  After college, I entered the world of book publishing, where to this day I blissfully sit in silence, getting paid to read for a living.  It’s the perfect job for an introvert.

Although I love editing and working with other authors and editors and designers, I always dreamed of writing my own book, so I’ve continued to work on my own writing.  My weekends are spent at the library or in the bookstore, crafting sentences.  I try to pour my heart out with the same abandon as I did when I was writing in the privacy of my little journal with the lock on it when I was a child, except now I’m working toward having people actually read my work.  I revise, I get feedback, I pitch, I query.  –And I get silence.  It feels like I rarely hear back from acquiring editors.  Writing is what I’m supposed to be good at.  It’s what I’ve always been told I’m good at.  And yet I have a hard time placing my writing in publications.

Instead, the skill I grew up thinking was my weakest is the one being called into action.  I don’t go out trying to book readings, but time and time again, I’m called upon to give readings and to teach.  It’s public speaking in all its knee-shaking glory.

I’m immensely thankful for these opportunities, and they’ve all gone pleasantly well, but I have to laugh that I seem to get more speaking engagements than publishing credits.

* * *

As I was writing this very post a few days ago, I got a message from poet and musician RA Araya asking me to read a poem in Greek at Sunday’s reading.  Talk about irony!  The memoir I’ve been writing deals with my conflicted Greek identity and the fact that I don’t speak Greek.  Now, as I was writing about laughing over the fact that I’m having to overcome my introverted tendencies to give readings, I’m asked to read in the very language I don’t speak.

But you know what?  I said yes.

Maybe I’ll crash and burn and make a fool of myself, but at least I’ll have tried.  Eleanor Roosevelt once said:

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Life is too short to be scared of anything.  Living means growing, and the best way to grow it to try new things.  Challenging yourself can lead to rewards.  I believe people surprise themselves and rise to occasions.  I’ve also learned that people want you to succeed and that literary crowds tends to be rather supportive.

I’m actually excited about this opportunity.  It’s a great way to promote the beauty of the Greek language and culture during Greece’s economic crisis, and I’m thinking I may read something in an archaic Greek dialect (I studied Classical Greek at Pomona College), a dead language, to further bring awareness to endangered languages.

If you’re in New York, stop by.  I can’t promise perfection, but we will have fun!!  Here’s the info:::

August 12, 2012.  5:00-9:00pm.  The Sidewalk Cafe (94 Avenue A).  New York, NY.  Stephanie will be reading from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, as part of RA’s Music Poetry Jam Celebration.  flashbackpuppy, Patricia Spears Jones, Sparrow, Puma Perl, Kate Levin, Sarah Sarai, Foamola, Virdell Williams, and Steve will also be taking the stage.  Free, but there’s a one-drink minimum.

Now… what to wear?

 

Also!  Save the date::: September 3 I’m giving a reading that I’m beyond excited about.  Details to come soon.

 

Do you ever find that the very skill you least like using or think is your weakest is the one you need to rely on the most?  What do you think of Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice to push yourself to do the things that scare you?

The Shy Person’s Guide to Giving a Reading

11 May

 

I used to be shy.  I don’t mean a little shy.  I mean the type of shy that held me back from different opportunities.  It wasn’t that I lacked confidence in my abilities.  I just felt uncomfortable having attention focused on me.  Writing therefore seemed like a great career choice—except that, as I soon discovered, writing involves a fair amount of speaking.  If you’re a journalist, for example, you’re tracking people down and asking them oftentimes personal questions.  However, even if you’re a creative writer, these days it seems like you have to be a speaker as well.

It’s all part of that wonderful word we’ve come to know all too well: “platform.”  A writer needs to build their following and promote their work through readings and interviews.  If you’ve been sitting alone in a dark makeshift home office, you might relish these opportunities to speak to someone other than your pet bird.  However, many writers, even if they’re not shy, are introverts.  Which means, even they’re not shy, they’re not necessarily the type to seek out big crowds of people.  When I was at the Festival of Faith and Writing last month, so many people who approached me (not something a shy person would necessarily do) afterwards told me that they’re introverts.

I remember giving my first big oral presentation in fourth grade.  As the shyest person in the class, I was certainly not looking forward to it.  However, the day of the oral presentations came, and I was just fine.  You know who fainted?  The popular kid in class.

These days I don’t dread public speaking.  It’s not an activity that gives me great pleasure, the way some people love karaoke or acting, but I generally don’t mind public speaking.  I’ve even been encouraged by it.

Here are a couple tips for public speaking I’ve learned through trial and error:::

Get plenty of sleep 48 hours in advance.  Being tired will make you feel anxious.  Try to get a decent amount of sleep the two nights before the reading.  I say two nights because you can’t just cram in sleep.

Drink plenty of water 48 hours in advance.  Don’t drink anything too close to your reading time.  When you’re nervous, you might feel like you need to pee more often.  However, you should be hydrated because speaking loudly can make your throat parched.  Also, lay off the caffeine and alcohol.  I know a lot of writers have notoriously drank to overcome their nerves.  Jack Kerouac was one of them.  And everyone knows it.  Do you really want to be that person?  While caffeine will make you anxious and make you sound like the Micromachines man, zooming through your reading, alcohol might make you slur your speech.  Stick with water.

Dress up.  When I was in undergrad, I used to dress up whenever I had a big test.  It may sound superficial, but dressing up gave me confidence.  When you give a reading, you’ll want to dress appropriately for the occasion.  I won’t mention the specific name of the awards ceremony, but I went to a book award ceremony a while back and was dismayed at the authors’ appearances.  They looked unkempt.  Yes, I know what matters more your inner character and your talents, however if you’re receiving an award or have been selected to give a reading, you should be respectful in your attire and dress for the occasion.  Besides, there are very few opportunities when we get to dress up.  Why let Hollywood stars have all the fun??

Be prepared.  Practice your reading several times.  Type your talk up in a large enough font that you don’t have to hold the paper close to your face to read it.  It may also be helpful to write little notes or add extra spaces reminding yourself to breathe, to look up, to smile.

Be thankful.  Being selected to give a reading is not a punishment.  It’s an honor.  People are celebrating your writing talents.  They’re making time in their busy schedules to hear you.  You’re already a star in their mind.  You don’t have to change who you are and pretend to be a stand-up comedian or loudmouth if that’s not who you are.  You just have to be yourself and be gracious.

 

If you happen to be in New York City, I cordially invite you to attend my reading this Friday, May 11.  It will be a super short reading sometime between 5pm and 9:30pm, at Lang Center, 2nd Floor, 55 W. 13th Street.