About a year ago, I read a book by Mike Dooley called Manifesting Change. In it, he mentioned how Toastmasters public speaking meetings changed him from a shy talker to an award winning public speaker. Shortly thereafter, I started attending my local Toastmasters in the hope that I could overcome my lifelong fear of speaking in public.
Despite rehearsing my chosen reading section with my Toastmasters mentor prior to my first book launch party in London, I tried very hard to avoid doing it. Danielle Imara, who published her book Crack as a joint venture with Holy Candy, acquired the Soho Space for us, and also most of the guests. Since I could only think about how nervous I was, I opened a bottle of champagne before the first guests arrived and started drinking.
At intervals throughout the evening, guests approached me asking if I would read. I brushed the question away, and took another sip of champagne. However, as the evening wore on, Danielle said, “We are going to have to read.”
I cut my chosen reading in half, and soldiered through it, not sure if words were coming out of my mouth, or simply sounds. From the applause at the end, I assumed they had been words. I determined that next time I would read before drinking.
When I was invited to read a piece for Resonance Radio in London, I instantly forgot this decision, and downed a cocktail before going into the studio. Johny Brown, host of “... such a nice radio show,” said that drunk reading was great. So I went into the audio booth and stumbled over two sections of my book. The audio technician made no comment.
At my New York book launch at Kingston Hall, I did not drink before reading, but a friend told me I should have done. Fortunately, the ambient bar music created a distraction from my too-sober reading.
Funnily enough, my first television interview, on Al Jazeera, went much better than the readings. Here I could focus on my intent to just speak to one person. This trick worked in my following radio appearances on Harlem World Radio and Sex City Radio.
After two more readings, at Sisters Uptown Bookstore and in the New York Lit Crawl, I started to think it would be a good idea to push the boundaries. So in my most recent reading, for the CCNY MFA Reading Series, I asked my friend, TV host, Gita Cellei, to create a comic foil to my reading with various props including some rope, a vibrator and a water pistol. Readings are so much better with a friend.
My goal is to one day be articulate enough to do a Ted talk, or to appear on a panel in the NYPL LIVE series, perhaps on cults or the aftereffects of such. But for now, I’m grateful that I have gone from someone who—post-cult—could barely enunciate in public without shaking, to someone who can speak just about anywhere without caring too much what people think. Thank you, Toastmasters.