Empty Seats & Other Fears


The first time I walked into a classroom and realized that my job was to talk to these teens, every cell in my body wanted to run from the room and never return. And things stayed that way for a few years. Every day, I wanted to flee home to my writing room. Every day I did the harder thing. I taught those kids.

That was 1990. This is now. I handle English classes with ease, but any other type of public speaking makes me wish I’d popped a Xanax. Which brings me to next week and the dozen or so peers who I’ll be helping navigate the social media world. I’m no expert, but my love of Twitter has compelled me to learn its landscape.

Once again, for the love of language, I am putting myself in a place of massive personal discomfort. I’m not alone in my fear of the podium. More people fear public speaking than dying. This did not surprise me when facilitator Linda Anger said it yesterday in her public speaking workshop. I took the DWW workshop because I want to banish this fear.

As a writer who is trying to market her own novels, public speaking could be a big wand in my magic bag of tricks. I did it with my first book, back in 2007. Twice. To an audience who was way more interested in what I had to say that my students ever were. But my first book was non-fiction, about writing. My audience was hungry for answers. I filled the seats both nights, they all bought my book, they had questions galore. In other words, a dream audience.

Since then, I’ve published four novels. I did not line up any coffee shop/bookstore/library readings. Not a one. I’ve read so many horror stories about bookstore signing where one person shows up, only to ask where the restroom is located. Yesterday, Linda asked those of us in the workshop why we were afraid. My reason was easy: boring others. I teach English to jaded freshman college students who do a lot of covert texting and not quite so sly eye-rolling.

I fear boring you. I fear being judged. I fear you will judge me boring. I hide behind my blog and Twitter and call it marketing. My husband comes home from work and asks what I did all day. “Well, I wrote for a bit, then I did some marketing.” In fact, Twitter is not marketing for me.  I like making connections with writers and readers and other people, exploring links, trying to squeeze a cogent thought (plus a hash tag)  into 140 characters.

As for this blog, I’ve always kept a diary. All my life since the time I could write. And this blog is actually my diary. I write it for the same reason I write everything, to make sense of my place in the world. Every novel is a life I didn’t lead. I travel far and wide in my imagination, but I don’t leave the desk for marketing.

Real marketing includes hitting the streets of the real world. And after the helpful and fun workshop yesterday, I feel more prepared to do this. At some point in the future. If I don’t die first.


  1. I have talked myself into believing I don’t need to do bookstore readings. Bookstores don’t carry my books. But other types of public speaking about topics I’m passionate about, I can see myself doing that.


  2. First of all, it was fun to (indirectly) meet you (and other Cindy’s/Cynthia’s, lol) at the DWW conference this past Saturday. I actually started out my career as a middle/high school teacher, but I didn’t last long…but yes, I totally remember having those knots in my stomach every day. I still suspect teens–even younger children–are among the most difficult audiences; they don’t yet have the manners/discipline to just sit and listen. I believe that if you can present in front of the shark-infested waters of teens, then you can speak in front of many audiences. I felt you had great poise this Saturday, and hope it has given you tips and confidence to soar higher as a presenter. (As an aside, I hear teachers are the worst people listeners with presenters; I guess the students rub off on them!)


  3. Hi Debbie,

    It was fun to meet you, too. I think you must be right about somehow losing my panic over public speaking without realizing it. Yes, if you can wake up a room full of tired, bored, cranky kids, you can speak to anyone. I do think it is easier if the audience wants to be there:) Thank you for saying I had great poise!! What a nice thing to say. I’m so happy you stopped by my website. Hope to see you at another event soon.


  4. Thank you, Cindy – I am grateful that you found the workshop helpful, and also grateful for the way you (and everyone else in the room) embraced the points I made and the exercises.

    I’m considering expanding it to a half-day or even a full-day workshop. Your feedback on that would be awesome!



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