Monday, April 23, 2007

Ask Ms.Viola: On Talking Off The Cuff

Hello, kiddoes! I’m back to answer yet another one of your luffly questions. This one comes from Thalia Chaltas. Thalia, dear? You’d best fine tune your coffee grinder because your official mug will be winging its way to you shortly!

Q: Dear Ms Viola,

I recently attended a wonderful book launch at Storyopolis for none other than our own Robin LaFevers! I was so impressed by this beautiful, confident introvert as she stood and thanked everyone for being present.

This is a situation that frankly terrifies me! When thanking anyone ‘off the cuff’ like that, I tend to forget even my relatives’ names in the panic! Remember that old pull-out-the-straws-till-all-the-marbles-fall game called Kerplunk?? I feel like I fumble for words and mess up names and go on and on and on…and finish wondering if the group is questioning my mental stability as they watch my marbles roll around their feet. Is there a good formula for that little thanking presentation that every author/illustrator will have to do at some time in front of real people??

Thank you so much (and love your glasses!),
Thalia Chaltas

A: Dahlink, dahlink, dahlink. The trick to off the cuff is to have your notes hidden in the cuff! You think Ms. LaFevers pulled that off herself? Ack, no! I’d been coaching her for days. She’d written out a number of small speeches, and practiced reading them to herself (although she was most uncooperative when I tried to get her to read them out loud!). We worked and worked and even came up with a plan so she wouldn’t have to resort to notes: count how many people she wanted to thank, then as she spoke the names out loud, she’d tick them off by raising a finger (subtly, of course).

However, even with all that preparation the silly goose forgot to thank a couple of people (most notably the illustrator and the bookstore). So this is a faboo lesson in how often one’s mistakes are obvious only to oneself!

Let’s recap, shall we?

Prepare (write out that little speech, even if seems like overkill.)
Prepare (read that little sucker—out loud, preferably—until you know it by rote.)
Prepare (Have a back up system—like counting on your fingers—to help if you should falter, even with all that preparation.)

Because if you’re an introvert, and you get horribly flustered when asked to speak publicly (as so many of my clients do) there really is no such thing as off the cuff. Also keep in mind that you won’t always have a warning that you’ll be expected to speak, so if there is even the slightest possibility, go ahead and prepare something to say. You can always use it next time…

And speaking of next time, ta ta till then!

p.s. My glasses were designed especially for me by a famous designer. Alas, I am forbidden from divulging his name lest everyone begin to pester him for glasses as flattering as mine.


Mary Hershey said...

Hey, Thalia! Great question and congrats on winning the Shrinking Violet mug.

Isn't that the great paradox-- that to be truly casual and relaxed, "off the cuff", you need to be very prepared.

It gets easier every time-- truly! And, no time like the present to start practicing! Your book will be here before you know it, and I can't WAIT!

Mary Hershey

Lee Wardlaw said...

I've found that it's not only wise to be prepared (with off-the-cuff remarks up the wazoo!) but to be prepared with visual aids! It's kind of a sleight-of-hand thing. No one pays attention to what you're saying (or how you say it) if you can wave around some truly excellent props. Or, better yet, get your audience to wave them around. Then THEY turn into the shrinking violets and you can remain cool and serene-looking. -Lee, who used to be a card-carrying member of Shrinking Violets Anonymous until she learned the virtues of Large and Silly Visual Aids, but who has now moved on to C.A. (Chocoholics Anon).