A 1993 survey conducted by polling firm Bruskin-Goldring showed that fear of public speaking consistently ranks as the number 1 one fear in America. Yet, as writers, we are told that one of the best ways to promote ourselves and our books is through speaking engagements. This week I interviewed my friend and critique partner Glenda Mathes to get her take on what is involved in being a writer/speaker and what advice she can give to fellow writers.
Glenda has authored several books, fiction as well as non-fiction. Her non-fiction works include two devotionals, A Month of Sundays: 31Meditations on Resting in God and Discovering Delight: 31 Meditations on Loving God’s Law. Another nonfiction book, Little One Lost: Living with Early Infant Loss, offers biblical hope for the pain of miscarriage, stillbirth, and infertility (a form of infant loss). Not My Own: Discovering God’s Comfort in the Heidelberg Catechism is the first workbook in the Life in Christ catechism. Glenda is currently collaborating on a memoir with Uriah Courtney, a man who was wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for over eight years before being exonerated. They anticipate this powerful story will be titled Exoneree.
Glenda has six grandsons, and wrote The Matthew in the Middle series of three novels: Matthew Muddles Through, Matthew Makes Strides, and Matthew Moves Ahead with boys in mind, but girls and entire families enjoy it as well.
1. Did you always want to become a speaker, or did you just slip gradually into it?
Although I was involved with speech activities in junior and senior high, I never longed to be a speaker. It’s stressful! But because writers are encouraged to build their platform through speaking, I try to embrace the opportunities God sends. I may attempt to schedule an engagement when I plan to be in a specific area, but for the most part I haven’t actively sought speaking opportunities. They have come to me gradually, so in that sense I’ve slipped into it.
2. What topics do you speak about in your presentations? Who is your target audience?
I usually speak to women’s groups on topics related to the Christian life and to my written work: experiencing God in the Psalms, resting in God, or delighting in his word. I also teach seminars on becoming discerning readers or excellent writers. I’ve been blessed to teach Christian sisters in prison and a seminar on writing to male inmates. I enjoy sharing about my life as a writer to elementary students on career days. I even managed to engage junior high students. My toughest audience was a high school youth group. I haven’t been asked to return.
3. Do these topics relate in some way to your books?
My speaking topics often relate to my published work, but also to subjects I’ve studied and written or blogged about—like literature and writing. My regular writing for a couple of publications piques my interest in a variety of subjects and allows me to meet—often only virtually, but sometimes in person—people from different backgrounds and countries with fascinating stories. These experiences add depth and authenticity to my speaking presentations.
4. How do you juggle your schedule as a writer with your speaking engagements?
Your verb choice triggers the apt image of juggling. Speaking means adding another ball to the family and work obligations I’m already spinning. Before accepting a speaking engagement, I carefully consider if I can fit it into my scheduled deadlines and family commitments. I pray about it, and I discuss it with my husband. Scheduling includes more than simply setting aside time for travel and speaking. Adequate time must be allowed for writing a speech and possibly crafting a PowerPoint presentation. How much time is adequate? I always have less time than I’d like.
An instructor at a recent writing conference asked, “How long does it take you to prepare a speech?” I answered, “Forever.” That’s how it usually feels.
5. Can you cite two memorable experiences from your speaking?
When I presented a writing seminar to male inmates participating in a seminary program, they kept me on my teaching toes. They fired questions like bullets, and I had to think extremely fast. It was exhilarating and exhausting.
For a recent trip to speak to women inmates, I prepared two speeches. But I ended up speaking five times on five different topics. Because I like to prepare far ahead of time and write out my entire speech, speaking with little preparation and only a bare-bones outline forced me to depend on the Lord like never before. But God demonstrated that it’s not about me, it’s all about him and how he equips even a weak vessel for his glory.
6. How can someone overcome the fear of public speaking?
I can’t give a step-by-step plan to overcome this fear. Before I speak, I get so nervous I can’t eat. Afterward, I’m starving. But while I’m speaking, God enables me to relax and enjoy it. He expands my mind to work on different levels: I’m concentrating on what I want to convey, focusing on engaging the audience, paying attention to the time, and communing on a deep level with God. If that sounds something like an out-of-body experience, it kind of is.
Perhaps your fears decrease the more often you speak, so the best solution may simply be to do it. And keep doing it. Many books and websites offer practical advice such as video-taping yourself or speaking in front of a mirror, but I find the less I think about myself and the more I depend on God, the better he equips me.
7. What advice would you give an aspiring writer/speaker?
If you want to get into speaking, start small. Perhaps you could offer to lead devotions for a women’s group at your church. Maybe you have something valuable to share with a local parenting group. Look at your church and community for small opportunities to gain speaking experience. You don’t always have to be paid for speaking, especially if you’re a beginner. Even if you’ve published books, you may simply accept whatever honorarium or love offering the group chooses to give you. But be sure to ask for a table where you can display, sell, and sign your books.
Once you have secured a speaking engagement, pray and prepare. Ask God to soften the hearts of the people who will hear your speech—and the heart of the speaker! Seek his direction on what to say and how to say it. Find friends who will pray for you while you write and give the speech.
Don’t be afraid. It’s the most frequent command in the Bible, and it applies to so much of life, particularly speaking. Unfortunately, not fearing is easy to say and difficult to do. My best advice is to lean on the Lord. Don’t try to impress people with your brilliance or beauty or poise. Don’t speak only to sell books or build platform (although that may be the hoped-for corollary). Do it for God and his glory.
Great advice from a writer who has taken the plunge and done what she needs to do not just to get her book into the hands of readers, but also to encourage and inspire others. Updates on this and Glenda’s other projects can be found on her website here.
Are you a writer/speaker, or do you aspire to become one? Please share your thoughts in the comments box below.
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