As an author, it doesn’t take very long after you’ve published your book – and sometimes even before you’ve published your book – before you are going to be required to speak in front of an audience. Now that audience may be live, although much less so during the days of COVID. But virtual, it may be with video; it may be audio only; it may be person to person; it may be in a bookstore. Who knows? But public speaking in any of those circumstances is not always something that either comes naturally to authors or can be very – or it can be very uncomfortable. So we’re going to dig into public speaking for authors today with some tips and some personal experiences from somebody who does a lot of public speaking. And that is Marjorie Aunos, the author of the – at the time of this recording – forthcoming book titled “Mom on Wheels” and Yvonne Caputo the author of "Flying With Dad" and the forthcoming second book titled "Dying With Dad"Support the show
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Introduction (various voices) 00:05
Welcome to the Empowered Author podcast.
Discussion, tips, insights and advice from those who been there, done that, helping you write, publish and market your nonfiction book.
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The Empowered Author podcast. Your podcast hosts are Boni and John Wagner-Stafford of Ingenium Books.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 00:58
Well, as an author, it doesn’t take very long after you’ve published your book – and sometimes even before you’ve published your book – before you are going to be required to speak in front of an audience. Now that audience may be live, although much less so during the days of COVID. But virtual, it may be with video; it may be audio only; it may be person to person; it may be in a bookstore. Who knows? But public speaking in any of those circumstances is not always something that either comes naturally to authors or can be very – or it can be very uncomfortable. So we’re going to dig into public speaking for authors today with some tips and some personal experiences from somebody who does a lot of public speaking. And that is Marjorie Aunos. And she is the author of the – at the time of this recording – forthcoming book called “Mom on Wheels”. Marjorie, welcome.
Marjorie Aunos 02:01
Thank you, Boni
Boni Wagner-Stafford 02:03
So to start us off, though, I do want to just put your speaking credentials in a bit of context for our listeners because you do a lot of podcast interviews: that’s fine. But you also just won a kind of a significant competition. I want you to tell me about that: what that competition was and what the result was. Everything about it.
Marjorie Aunos 02:33
Yeah. Yeah. So that’s pretty exciting, actually. So pretty much for the past year, every second month, I would enter a speaking competition on inspirational speaking and it’s through the organization called Speaker Slam. And, you know, at the beginning, I was sort of like, top 20. Then I got to the top 10 with my speeches. And finally, in August and in September, I made the top two. So like, I was second in August, on a theme of forgiveness. And I was first on a theme of personal power. And that led me to being eligible to go to the Grand Slam. So basically, the Grand Slam is, at the end of all those competitions, the top two speakers of each of those competitions sort of go head to head. And I am now the winner of the title of the Inspirational Speaker of the Year because my speech at the Grand Slam won first place. So I’m really, really, really excited about that. It’s amazing.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 03:47
Yeah. And congratulations. That is quite an accomplishment. So you’ve learned a fair bit, I would say, based on your experience and doing this every second week, over the last year. Tell me what the biggest learning is that you’re taking away from what you’ve learned so far.
Marjorie Aunos 04:11
Yeah. It’s actually to be authentic. It’s nothing – like there’s not a big formula. It’s really being authentic. It’s not speaking about … You know, it’s not about sort of … Sorry, I got distracted.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 04:32
That’s okay. Because it’s – I understand because we’ve had Yvonne Caputo join us. We were waiting for her and we had some technical difficulties. And so yeah, it makes sense that we get distracted. Hello, Yvonne. Yvonne.
Yvonne Caputo 04:44
Hello, can you hear me?
Marjorie Aunos 04:45
Boni Wagner-Stafford 04:46
Yes, we can hear you. Thank you. Okay, so we’ve started already. Yvonne, we’ll just carry on, though, and I’ll come to you in just a second. So Marjorie, my question was related to the biggest learning in the year of practicing every second week. And you talked about authenticity: being authentic as opposed to – and then we didn’t get the flip side.
Marjorie Aunos 05:09
That’s right. As opposed to sort of writing a speech to win a competition, for example. So the first few speeches that I wrote were sort of, I was trying to win and I wanted to win. So it didn’t come out as being authentic. And when I started sort of writing the stories about my dad and about how like he meant to me or about my cousin and what she taught me – but really taken from the heart – that’s when, you know, it resonated in people and it actually made me win but it wasn’t sort of the purpose. The purpose was really to share authentically about feelings and stories and memories that we have.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 05:53
Okay, thank you. And I’m going to come back to your experience in a moment. But for the listeners, we have – author Yvonne Caputo has now joined us. She’s author of “Flying With Dad” and author of the very-soon-to-be-out book called “Dying With Dad”. So Yvonne, you also do a lot of public speaking. Can you just give us a little bit of a flavor of what kind of public speaking you are most familiar and comfortable with?
Yvonne Caputo 06:25
Anything that has to do with teaching because that’s where it all started: that I was a classroom teacher. And it started in elementary and it was the children who resonated whether I was being authentic or not. And that skill then translated to when I did more training with adults.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 06:54
You guys are both adept at standing up or appearing in front of audiences. And I correct myself there because if you didn’t capture this, the title of Marjorie’s forthcoming book, “Mom on Wheels”: Marjorie is in a wheelchair. So technically, you don’t stand up for anything. But I would imagine that’s another conversation for another day about how our common language can be exclusionary, so I apologize for that. But the notion of appearing in front of audiences is where I’m getting to. And I want to talk about preparation. So Marjorie, what has your experience taught you about preparation? And what are some of the effective ways to prepare that you have discovered? And without throwing too many details into my question, which I really do far too often, but what are some ineffective ways that you’ve discovered that it doesn’t help you to prepare?
Marjorie Aunos 07:54
Okay, well, I’ll answer the first part, which is how to – how I prepare. And basically for me, it’s really finding that story or that memory or something that’s vivid: it has to be sort of an image or sort of like a little movie that happens in terms of like my memory. And once I capture sort of that right story for the impact that I’m looking for, then after that, it’s really sort of describing what that story or what that movie – what I see in my head, so that the other person can actually really, truly feel or see the same movie in their head, you know, with sort of their own memories sort of attaching or resonating with my movie. So I really try to make it so that they know what I’m trying to relay. So I use a lot of like, you know, the five senses. I try to put in elements where it’s like, what do I see? What do I smell? How did I feel? And I use a lot of “How did I feel?” because I find that that’s very powerful. So that’s pretty much what works. What doesn’t work? Well, for me, what doesn’t work is when I don’t have the time to sort of enter in my bubble. I really need to be sort of in that space, when I prepare, to be able to reflect. So often, what I’ll do is I’ll even meditate before, you know, so that I’m really sort of into the moment, so that I could look for those memories. If I don’t have that space, it doesn’t work.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 09:43
Let’s pause for a moment for a message from our sponsor.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 10:18
Yvonne, what about you? What have you found that is effective for you in terms of preparing in advance of a public speaking session?
Yvonne Caputo 10:29
Well, one of the things that I now reflect on is what I had to do in undergraduate school to be a teacher. And that was preparing lesson plans. And the lesson plan had to include what was my goal: you know, what did I want to get out of it? What kind of materials did I need to have? What were my sources? And so having to do that over and over again, that’s how I still do it: is that I have this outline prepared in my head. And to go to the ineffective side is that when I don’t take what my plan is and not rehearse it before I go to wherever it is that I’m going to – whether it’s online or whether it’s an in-person presentation.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 11:28
So those are excellent examples of things that you can do when you are in control of the narrative of what you’re going to say. So the kinds of speaker competitions that you’re talking about, Marjorie; Yvonne, your sessions, where you’re going in front of a group to train them on some concept of communication or another. What about when you’re in a situation – and I’m going to lump it all together: podcast interviews, media interviews, all I’m considering as part of public speaking – but you’ve both done a fair bit of podcast interviewing. And that kind of preparation, I would imagine, is different because you’re not in control of what the questions are, like my crazy questions coming at you. But Marjorie, let’s start with you. How do you prepare? First of all, how many podcasts interviews have you done?
Marjorie Aunos 12:27
Too many to count. But I’ve had a lot this year. I’ve had a lot this year. You know, the way that you prepare is just, I make a mental note. And sometimes I have Post-its around – because we’re doing it online – around sort of my computer of like the top three things that I would like to talk about or that is important in terms of like, what is my goal for this podcast interview? And so by having those three points that I could always come back to, then I’m able to answer the questions that, you know, is good for the person who’s interviewing me but also for me in terms of like, what is my goal? And what do I get out of that interview as well?
Boni Wagner-Stafford 13:18
Yeah, in the corporate communications world, we would talk about that in terms of having your key messages down. So you’ve got Post-it Notes around your computer screen with your key messages so that you can do the – it’s almost like no matter what the question – and you’ll get this in media training – no matter what the question, you can always remember to massage it and deflect back to give them the answer that you want to give them, no matter what they ask. But anyway, that’s a digression. Yvonne, you’ve done some podcast interviews as well – including with us here at Ingenium Books – but how do you prepare for your podcast interviews?
Yvonne Caputo 13:55
I do some of the same. You know, I will take some time and meditate or do some deep breathing or find a way to calm myself down. That’s even before I get into the car. But the other thing that has been really helpful to me is not to be afraid of silence. And so if I get thrown a question, I will take a moment and I will say inside my head, “What is the interviewer wanting from me? And what story do I have? What’s my best story to give the interviewer what he or she is looking for?”
Boni Wagner-Stafford 14:40
That’s a very good suggestion. Two suggestions in there. I love the, “Don’t be afraid of silence,” because in natural conversation, there’s often silences now: we can often read facial expressions and there’s lots going on even when there isn’t verbal noise filling up the space – which you may or may not get during a podcast interview, depending on whether you can see the video but that’s beside the point. So what about – and if we talk specifically about public speaking with respect to the book: so you each have talked about public speaking experiences that may or may not be directly related to each of your books. But when – and Marjorie, clarify for me: have you done some podcast interviews in the last number of months where you are talking about your book? And if so, is that more difficult or easier or different in any way?
Marjorie Aunos 15:44
Because everything goes back to stories, everything tied in: you know, the stories that I used in the competitions – in the speaking competitions – are often the stories that I will use in the podcasts, are also the stories that are in the book. And one, you know, helps and informs the other. So the more I do podcast interviews, the better I am in finding those stories for the book and better I am also in selecting the stories for the speaking competitions. So I think it’s all tied in.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 16:21
Awesome, Yvonne, what about you? Easier or harder to talk about the book, specifically, rather than some of your corporate training or the types of adult education sessions you lead?
Yvonne Caputo 16:39
I keep the book center stage in my head, actually, no matter where I am. And so I look for opportunities to bring the book into focus. And so I will, in that silence, if I’m asked a question, think about what’s in the book and what story can I bring to this, that will take people to what I really want them to know, which is about my book.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 17:18
So you have both become comfortable, I would say. Is that a stretch?
Marjorie Aunos 17:27
No, I think it’s okay.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 17:28
Not a stretch? Yes. So you’ve both become comfortable. I know for a fact – and we, the three of us know some authors, even within the Ingenium Books circle, who are not so comfortable speaking. They are much more comfortable sitting behind the computer tapping away at the keyboard and that kind of public speaking isn’t really the kind of public speaking we’re talking about. But getting out from behind the computer and actually speaking, whether it’s about the book or not, can be very difficult for people and for many authors who often share kind of introversion tendencies, which is fairly common. But I’m going to ask each of you to think about something that you would recommend to an author who is not as confident as you guys have become. And Marjorie, I’ll start with you.
Marjorie Aunos 18:27
Well, the first thing that I would say is that stress is normal. And even if we’re like comfortable, we still do feel it. I certainly do, anyways. And so that’s the first thing that I would say: if you feel nervous, it’s normal. Everybody does. You do it on a regular basis or not. So not to be afraid of sort of that stress of you’re going to feel. And then the other advice that I would give, which is an advice that I got when, right before I had to defend my thesis a long time ago, I was told, “This is your story. So you are the perfect person to talk about your story. And as long as you talk about what you know, which is the stories in your book and so forth, then there is no wrong answer. So you can’t sort of mess up.” Because often people are afraid of messing up and so forth. But if you sort of go back to the essential, which is you are the author of, you know, your book your life, so that means that you’re the perfect person to answer those questions.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 19:41
Which really should help to address the – what is the word I’m looking for? It’s just completely escaped me – but the insecurity: who am I to have written a book in the first place? Who am I to be sitting here talking about my book? So that would really help with that. Yvonne, do you have some suggestions for authors who might be timid or get very nervous or aren’t confident about public speaking in any kind of environment?
Yvonne Caputo 20:16
What came to mind when you originally asked Marjorie the question was practice, practice, practice. And one of the things is, if there is that fear, you know, is define ways that you can do public speaking that are perhaps not related to being on a podcast. So I think about finding a local theater and seeing if they have drama classes. Or one of your authors got into stand-up comedy and she found that that was really helpful to get out behind from behind the desk and to tell her story. So to find outside ways to give yourself that practice. And to piggyback on what Marjorie said, I did drama and theater in college. And the professor, Dr. Clifford – I remember her name – she told us for every performance, “If you’re not anxious, don’t come. If you’re not a little bit scared, don’t come because your performance won’t be as good. Use that anxiety to really do what you came to do.”
Boni Wagner-Stafford 21:40
So a question for you from my personal experience, which is that I am perfectly comfortable speaking in front of a microphone or a screen when it’s like this and I was a television journalist, so I could speak to a camera but the moment you put me in a room with actual live people – and because I had a fairly high-profile job, I was invited to speak in front of groups every now and again. And I was so nervous as soon as I could see people’s eyeballs looking back at me, that I literally had trouble catching my breath to make any sense of the words that I knew had to come out of my mouth. So what advice might you guys have for that situation? It’s like, it’s anxiety, of course. But I didn’t even – I didn’t know how to use it at that point. And taking deep breaths? I couldn’t get any breath. I didn’t know how to combat it. So I felt like I was, you know, kind of an idiot standing up there.
Yvonne Caputo 22:46
Well, one of the things that I was told early on is that when you see the people in the audience, connect with someone who’s smiling. Look for the face in the audience that smiling.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 23:02
What if you can’t find one? But anyway, yes, but that’s a good suggestion.
Yvonne Caputo 23:07
Well, then you led right into what this drama coach said to us. She said, “Look at the people and pretend they’re all naked.”
Boni Wagner-Stafford 23:15
Oh my God.
Yvonne Caputo 23:17
And she said that would bring humor into it. Or pretend that there is a person sitting in your audience that’s your best friend or your husband and when you start to speak, you’re talking to that very special person. So those are the three suggestions that came to me very early on.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 23:41
Yeah. Great. Marjorie, anything new to add to that one?
Marjorie Aunos 23:44
Oh, I’m just smiling because those are like the same ones that my dad actually told me and that recently, I just told my son. The only one that I would add is that sometimes, you know, really having eye contact with people – even if it’s your friend; even if it’s, you know, a smiling face – is really too nerve wracking. So the advice that I gave my son is just look right above the eyes. So you’re not really – like people still think that you’re focusing on them but you’re not actually sort of like looking into their soul and they’re not looking into yours. And so that can sort of relieve a little bit of the stress.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 24:26
Cool. Okay. The last type of public speaking that we haven’t yet touched on – and I’m excited to talk about this – is the media interview. You both have experience being interviewed for media, whether television, radio, or both. How is that different? Marjorie, has it been different for you? And do you prepare or react in a different way when you’re in that scenario?
Marjorie Aunos 24:49
No. I think it’s sort of like the little pause which is like milliseconds before you answer the question that really does … You know, it’s sort of like you have to ground yourself before you answer the question. And for media, it has to be sort of short and sweet. You know, they don’t want sort of a whole dissertation for your – as an answer, basically. So yeah, short and sweet – your key messages – really helps for me.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 25:18
Right. And do you think that makes a difference depending on what kind of media interview it is? Is it a sit-down half-hour television show versus it’s somebody – a reporter – who is on location with you and really, they are looking at sound bites? Does that come into your mind and your thinking when you’re getting ready?
Marjorie Aunos 25:36
Of course. And often anyways, you have sort of a conversation with the reporter so you know a little bit of what they’re getting at. And so if it’s a five-minutes blog, you know, you have to keep it really short and succinct. If it’s something, you know, bigger, where there’s more time, then you can weave in sort of those stories. And so you have your key messages with those stories that you weave in. And so you build sort of the time that way. And it’s also different when it’s, you know that it’s recorded versus when it’s live: live sort of adds a little anxiety component that’s not as much when it’s recorded.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 26:16
Right. And Yvonne, you have similar experiences, both recorded and live, I think. How were they different for you when you were being interviewed by members of the media, whether it was a television show host or a reporter on scene?
Yvonne Caputo 26:31
Actually, they were pretty much the same. You know, I felt like, that – again, taking that pause: what am I being asked? How do I want to respond in the situation? The other thing is preparing myself by getting excited.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 26:55
Yvonne Caputo 26:57
Yes. Looking at this, like, “Oh, my goodness, this is really going to be fun. I’ve never had an opportunity to do this before. This is just an exciting thing to be even asked to do.” So the positive self-talk: you know, “You can do this. It’s going to be a little different but this is something that you can handle.” So what they talk about is getting myself psyched for the experience itself.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 27:33
Which – and I can’t believe that I’m leaving this till right at the very end; we’re just about out of our totally self-imposed, subjective 30-minute time limit for these interviews – but what I didn’t ask before now – and I really want to get this notion in – is how does the fact that you are speaking about your book and your passion for, the reason that you wrote the book in the first place, how does that play into everything that you do around these interviews? Yvonne, you’re nodding your head: why don’t I start with you?
Yvonne Caputo 28:15
That’s what really drives me: is, I believe in my book; I believe in what I tried to convey in that book. The stories that are in the book are so valuable in and of themselves. And I know that they resonate with readers as much as they resonated with me talking. So it’s that, you know, taking that same passion that I had for writing the book and having that carry me into whatever it is that I’m saying about the book.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 28:53
Yeah, makes sense. Marjorie?
Marjorie Aunos 28:56
Oh, it’s the same. Yvonne said it perfectly. And I think that when you write a book, you have a purpose. You know, we don’t just write a book for the pleasure of writing a book. And so as soon as …
Boni Wagner-Stafford 29:05
Exactly. Nobody would do that. They’d be out of their mind.
Marjorie Aunos 29:08
Yeah. And so when you have a purpose, then everything ties into that purpose. And it’s easy to sort of, like, get excited because it’s sort of like, “Wow, I can – you know, those stories have shaped my life and now they can impact other people’s lives.” And so that’s like, exciting. Yeah.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 29:29
Yeah, very exciting. And you know, there is nobody other than you as the author of your book that can do this as well as you can. So for the authors or soon-to-be authors listening to this, you’re the best one to do it. As Marjorie said earlier, it’s your story. You own it; you are the perfect person to talk about it. So there’s very little reason to feel insecure about it. But the other thing is – and just feeding on to what you just said, Marjorie, which is, we’ve written our books for a reason. If we want people to be helped by them or entertained by them and if we want people to enjoy them and to talk to others about them, we have to be able to talk about them first. So that means finding a way to do a little bit of public speaking in some way, shape or form. So I’m thanking both of you so much for joining us for this episode and I just want to – Marjorie Aunos, author of the soon-to-be-out book “Mom on Wheels”, and Yvonne Caputo is author of “Flying With Dad” and the forthcoming, soon-to-be-out book, “Dying With Dad”. Thank you both so much for joining us.
Marjorie Aunos 30:53
Thank you so much.
Yvonne Caputo 30:54
Boni Wagner-Stafford 30:59
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