by Kelle Z. Riley
Whew. Let me catch my breath. I just returned from the RWA (Romance Writers of America) national conference in New York City. And I totally forgot—until our fabulous moderator Becky reminded me—that I was going to drop by and post a few “words of wisdom” about public speaking. Luckily I just returned from the RWA National Conference (I did mention that, didn’t I?) where I did a ton of public speaking. So I’m ready to go.
Who am I, you ask? I’m Kelle Riley. Kelle Z. Riley, to be specific. (I’m sure fellow author Kelly Ann Riley likes me to be specific so we don’t get confused. Kelly Ann was nominated for a RITA this year, so for my part, it’s kind of cool to be confused with her, but I digress.)
Now that you know who I am, you’re no doubt wondering why I was doing so much public speaking. If you check your conference workshop schedule you’ll have figured out that I’m not a keynote or luncheon speaker. I didn’t emcee or play any role in the awards ceremony, and I wasn’t even picked to give a workshop this year.
So what kind of public speaking was I doing? The best kind. I was talking with fellow conference attendees about things that excite me. Specifically, reading and writing novels. It’s a misconception that public speaking is mostly about standing up in front of a crowd and giving a “talk.” Sure, there are times when you are asked—or allowed—to do that, but most of the time, public speaking is about making one-on-one connections with strangers and finding common ground. It’s about complimenting someone on the awesome pair of shoes she’s wearing (and meaning it). Next thing you know she’s telling you where she bought them and you’re joking about wearing dress shoes when you mostly work barefoot at the keyboard the—voila!—you’re suddenly talking about writing.
Once you start talking about your writing, it’s easy to keep the excitement going. Your new friend will ask what you write (and you’ll ask her the same) soon you’ll be promising to buy each other’s books or cheer on each other’s manuscripts. I came home from the conference with several new friends and most of the getting-to-know-you conversations started out a lot like the one I described above. Sometimes it was awesome shoes. Other times it was a conversation about a great workshop we’d chosen to attend. A couple of times it was even a discussion of the length of the wait for an elevator.
Really, that’s all public speaking is. It’s talking to someone who is interested in the topic you’ve chosen, whether it’s shoes or how to create the perfect plot arc. Once you’re comfortable with one-on-one discussions, you naturally expand to talking to small groups of people, some of whom you know and others you’ve just met. And, like the one-on-one conversation, it’s a discussion about things all of you have in common. Even when you “graduate” to speaking to large groups, such as during a workshop, the dynamics are similar. The larger the group the more you have to plan your topic but in the end it boils down to the same things you’ve always done: you chat about what you love with people who are also interested in the subject.
So, for all you aspiring public speakers out there (even the timid ones cringing behind their computer screens) those are my words of wisdom. Start small. With a conversation. And enjoy yourself.
Oh, and if you want to hear more, join me at the Georgia Romance Writer’s “Moonlight & Magnolias” conference Sept. 29 – Oct. 2 where I’ll be presenting “Public Speaking for Shy Writers” along with my friend and fellow author Michael Charton.
About Kelle: Dr. Kelle Z. Riley is a 2005 Golden Heart Finalist whose first book—a romantic suspense entitled Dangerous Affairs—was published in 2006. Kelle believes in the magical power of storytelling to entertain, educate and enthrall both readers and writers of all ages.
She frequently speaks on women’s issues and writing topics to various audiences. A Ph.D. chemist by day who holds more than 10 U.S. patents she also speaks on science topics at international conferences and seminars.
She is also a third degree karate black belt, and a certified women’s self defense instructor who teaches workshops on safety, self defense and, for her writer colleagues, how to write convincing action scenes.
A list of her other workshops can be found on her website.