I gave my first keynote presentation when I was eighteen. Since then, I’ve come up against dang near every minor and moderate issue a presenter might encounter.
As writers, panels, conferences, readings, classes and workshops are likely to come our way. I’m not going to speak here about choosing your topic or material, or outlining and establishing a talk or class (but will later, if folks are interested!). Instead, we’re going to chat about… problems.
No matter how fantastic the story you’ll be reading or how perfect the PowerPoint you’ve created, the difference between a great presentation—for you and your audience—and a bad presentation doesn’t lie in whether you encounter problems. It depends on how well you face the challenge, crisis, or OH SHIT moment.
We could drill through a score of subcategories and specifics. But we’re going to touch on the three areas most speaking challenges fall under: Technology Is Fickle, Who the Hell Is In Charge, and I Misjudged My Audience.
Technology Is Fickle
Don’t skip this one, thinking your talks are “too small” to involve AV equipment. Electricity falls under “technology,” and the power grid doesn’t care if you have twenty-seven people ready to learn self-defense in a windowless hotel conference room when a lacking-judgement squirrel loses its life to a transformer up the road.
I will choose and understand my life priorities before I entertain, let alone commit to, “measureable” goals. For example, “My son and I will have conversation today” is a much higher priority than “I will write 1000 words every day.” What I produce will not be deemed of greater value and importance than who I am and the connections I want to preserve with family and friends.
I will give more weight to my mental and physical health, and the needs of the actual human beings in my life, than I do to word counts, bookings, and schedules. Certainly there are those who will assume I’m speaking from a place of privilege, as someone who must be able to set aside Real Life Responsibilities for some squishy emotional goal. Nope. The past almost-ten years haven’t been a stroll down the primrose path, darlings, and frankly, the journey was made more emotionally difficult by production-focused people at the edges of my life who looked down on my decision to invest time in my son and family rather than a monetary venture. I wasted time feeling bad about their snubs. I won’t do that again.
If a fill-in-the-blank guru tells me I must perform X tasks in order to reach Y goal, or I’m not really ever going to get Y goal, I will merely assume the guru is telling the truth and move on. It’s very, very easy to get caught up in the Secret of Success Rhetoric. The industry is just as savvy as the diet industry when it comes to guilting people into handing over the lives (and money) in order to prove themselves Not A Loser. Many gurus thrive on enforcing methods that in reality force a person to neglect health, friendships, family, and life experiences for the sake of meeting goals, and will insinuate you’re a lazy, unworthy person if you’re not willing to make those sacrifices. There is no success I could achieve that would be worth such neglect. I will not be shamed into acting otherwise.
I will more loudly rejoice when I do well. I will share my successes rather than humbly swallow them. Screw that Tall Poppy madness. I invite everyone else to do the same.
And above all, I wish everyone a 2016 that has more laughter than fear, more moments worth remembering than days worth forgetting, more tears shared in the company of others than wept alone, more encouragement in times of doubt than doubt in times of difficulty, and more time with people you love than longings for those beyond reach.
This week, I have a professional opportunity to put in front of a group of writers. Finding contact information turned out to be much harder than it should have been.
10% had a professional email address I could easily find. And by “easily,” I mean it was on their writing-related website page marked CONTACT or ABOUT.
10% had a professional email address I found after clicking through to a Blogger Profile link at the bottom of the website’s sidebar.
10% had a professional email address listed at the bottom of the profile information included on a third-party site I happened to find through Google.
30% offered a contact form in place of a professional email address. I’m sure that seems like the most professional choice, but when I reach out to writers for such opportunities, I want and need a record of the communication. Since I don’t get to have that record, the first contact will include little actual information, ensuring the entire process will take longer due to the additional layer of back-and-forth.
30% had no contact information available that I could find. It simply… wasn’t there. No “Contact” page. An “About” page that listed all sorts of social media places, and no other way to connect. My decision is then between making a public contact for a matter I or the writer might not want to be public, or passing the writer over completely.
10% offered no visible means of contact. Website links from third-party sites went nowhere. Twitter handles listed on websites were non-existent. The Contact/About page listed a place to make comments, but not to make direct contact.
So let’s say (as in, “Let’s pretend”) I have fifteen slots in an anthology and a list of twenty writers I could include. About 30% would have first dibs simply because they are easy to contact and can make the swiftest informed responses. Another 30% would be fairly easy to contact as well, and would likely secure their spots.
Now I have only three spots left in my anthology, and eight of the authors on my list don’t even know I’d like to include them. How much time do I invest in tracking them down? How much do I prioritize their participation over my time spent finding them? How much easier would it be to find other talented writers who do make their contact information available?
(To answer the last question: It’s very easy. Talent is not so rare as folks on high would have you believe. 🙂 )
And in case you’re still wondering if that contact information is really important…
I have confirmed participation of one writer, yet still have no professional contact information for others. And that one confirming writer is in the 10% who listed a professional email contact.
Luck is what happens when opportunity meets preparation, my darlings. Seneca knew what he was talking about.