Thursday, April 17, 2014

Do's and Don'ts of Public Speaking

by Maria Geraci

When my first book came out in 2009 to say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. I was new to the world of publishing and things like cover conferences and copy edits and deadlines were a stormy sea I had learned to navigate partly with the help of my agent and other writer friends, and partly by myself (I don't think anyone can really teach you to dog paddle. There is nothing more motivating than sink or swim.).

What I wasn't expecting, however, were the requests I had for interviews and public speaking. The interviews were easy because other than a few phone interviews and one live meet-and-greet at the local Starbucks, most of those were conducted online. I had time to think of my answers and produce some sort of semi-intelligent, semi-witty response. At least, I hope that's how they came across.

When I was asked by a friend from my Bunco group to come speak to the local Rotary club, I was a little flummoxed.

"Why would they want to hear from me?" I asked.

"Oh, we invite speakers all the time. Don't worry! You'll be fabulous. Tell them how you got published. Everyone is always interested in that."

Okay, I thought to myself. My friend was right. One thing I had learned early on is that most people are always fascinated by how authors get published. I jotted down a few notes on a set of index cards, dressed up in business casual and met my friend in front of the local civic center where the Rotary Club met for lunch and their monthly meeting.

When I walked into the room, my pulse began to jump. It was packed. Full of people in business suits (men and women) busy eating their sit down lunch and networking with one another. I was escorted to the "head" table in front of the room and placed between two gentleman. The one to my left introduced himself as some sort of big shot with the Boy Scouts of America. The gentleman to my right was older (probably early to mid seventies), polite, but a bit reserved. My friend was seated at the end of the table. She gave me a thumbs up and a big smile and told me not to worry. The president of the club, whom my friend had introduced me to earlier, asked me how long my speech was.

How long was my speech? How was I supposed to know? I mean, was I supposed to have timed this?

I shrugged and said something along the lines of, "Oh, not too long."

She frowned. Then said something along the lines of,  "You have exactly twenty minutes and fourteen seconds. I'll be timing you." (Not really, but that's how it felt).

I then learned that I was going to be the 3rd speaker of the afternoon. Which meant I could relax a bit as the other 2 speakers did their thing. This would also be the perfect opportunity to slyly study my index cards.

The first speaker was introduced. She appeared to be a teenage girl and I immediately relaxed. I mean, how eloquent could she be? Then she made her way to the podium and that's when I noticed that she had some sort of physical disability. She was there to thank the Rotary Club for their sponsorship to a summer camp she had attended. Her speech was more than eloquent. It was elegant and full of warm gratitude to the group that had financially assisted her to fulfill a personal goal. There wasn't a dry eye in the house when she was done.

My damp palms were now clutching the Index Cards in a death grip.

Boy Scout Guy to my left must have noticed how nervous I looked because he leaned over and said, "You'll be fine."

I nodded numbly.

Then they introduced the next speaker who turned out to be older gentleman to my right. I heaved a sigh of relief. He shuffled his way to the podium and Boy Scout Guy whispered something like, "Yeah, you'll be great!" I mean, how good could this old guy be? Right?

Old Guy took a folded piece of paper out of his jacket pocket and read a small snippet of an article to the audience. The article was about a new form of social media called Twitter (remember, this was 2009). He then began to do an entire bit about his "generation" and social media and Twitter. I laughed so hard I was nearly in tears (as was the rest of the audience).

Then, it was my turn.

My friend introduced me and the audience politely clapped. I clutched my Index cards and began my not-so-prepared speech, fully aware that there was no way I could be as touching as the first speaker or as funny as the second. As I was fudging my way through the talk, I happened to notice someone out of the corner of my eye making hand gestures. It was the club president, tapping on her watch to indicate that my time was up. How long had I spoken? I glanced at my own watch and was horrified to see that I'd been speaking almost 45 minutes, and I wasn't even half-way through my life story! I quickly mumbled a conclusion and found my seat. More polite clapping ensued.

On my way out the civic center, I cornered my friend.

"Be honest, did I suck?"

"No! You were awesome."

Yes, she's a good friend :)

Luckily, I think over the years I've improved my skills just a bit. My own personal Do's and Dont's?


Set a time limit on your speech. No one wants to hear someone go on and on and on and....
Find out about your audience ahead of time.
Pick a narrow topic. Be specific.
Try to maintain good eye contact.
Allow time for questions.
Thank your audience afterward. Mingle, shake hands. And don't forget to thank the person who invited you to speak.


Wear something uncomfortable/unflattering.
Eat right before you speak (unless you can go to the bathroom and brush your teeth!)
Use inappropriate language. Be professional!

Above all: Be yourself and have a good time!

Maria Geraci writes humorous romantic women's fiction. You can check out her website at


  1. Loved this and totally related. I have a whole collection of Rotary Club pens and Kiwanis bells and other service club geegaws.

    1. Yikes! Yes, they were an interesting crowd. It was a good first experience for me!

  2. Maria, Did I ever mention that I could sit around all day and listen to your advice? Oh right, i might have alluded to that on the props page of Perfect Timing! As always, spot on advice! XXOO