How I went from petrified to panelist

By Judy Penz Sheluk

My earliest memory of public speaking goes back to the eighth grade, when I stood in front of the class and mumbled my way through a dry dissertation on Sir Isaac Newton. Years later, I’d think, I should have brought an apple, tossed it in the air, let it hid me in the head … that would’ve got their attention, but alas, I wasn’t nearly that inventive. The end result was a deadly dull presentation that had my teacher and fellow students falling asleep in their seats—or even worse, feeling sorry for me—and a fear of public speaking that carried on for decades.

It didn’t matter, for a long time. And then in 2015, my debut novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose, was published. I was invited to be part of a two-author event at a local library. Of course I went—I couldn’t pass up the opportunity because I was terrified, could I?

The other author, whose fantasy novel about an aboriginal child fascinated by wolves, was up first. He spoke eloquently, read like an actor flawlessly reciting his lines, and basically had the audience (thankfully small) in the palm of his very capable hands. Later I’d find out he did presentations as part of his day job, but I didn’t know that then. Shades of Sir Isaac Newton came flooding back to me and I all but begged the librarian who had arranged the event to read for me.

She did. Badly. I left that day determined to do my own reading the next time I had an opportunity. After all, I couldn’t do a worse job than the librarian. Could I?

Next up, Bouchercon Raleigh 2015. My first Bouchercon. My first novel. My first panel. Knowing that the American Guest of Honour, Tom Franklin, was also on the panel only served to frighten me all the more. I was pacing the hall outside my hotel room, trying to summon up the courage to go to the conference room, when a well-known author walked by. I’ll never know why she stopped to talk to me. Maybe it was because I was green around the gills, or maybe because I looked desperate for a friendly face. Whatever the reason, her random act of kindness changed my life. Because she told me the one thing I hadn’t considered: No one wants you to fail. The audience is rooting for you. They want you to succeed.

The panel, about writing stories set in small towns, went reasonably well. I wasn’t perfect, but as I answered the moderator’s questions, I found myself gradually gaining confidence.

Since then, I’ve been the guest author at several library events and regional book clubs and groups, most recently addressing 110 women at a PROBUS club meeting. I’ve also been a panelist at Malice Domestic, 2016 and 2017, and at Bouchercon Toronto 2017, where I moderated a panel of esteemed book reviewers. Instead of being petrified, I looked at it as the incredible opportunity that it was: a chance to meet some amazing reviewers, and hopefully, make a good impression. Besides, this panel wasn’t about me, the moderator, it was about the panelists. Reminding myself of that helped enormously.

Was I perfect? No. Would I do some things differently? Yes. But I think back to that library event in 2015, proud of how far I’d come. And sometimes, that’s enough.

Five Tips For a Successful Book Reading

  1. Don’t read directly from your book. The print is small, and you don’t want to be struggling with it. Instead, type out your selection in a large font (I use Times New Roman 18).
  2. You don’t have to read the book verbatim. It’s okay to leave out descriptions etc. that work when reading in the comfort of your living room, but can slow the pace if reading out loud.
  3. Practice, practice, practice. In front of your dog, cat, husband, kids. In front of the mirror. Make sure there are no words that you stumble over, or have trouble pronouncing (if so, replace that word, no one will know).
  4. Time it. If you have three minutes, keep it to 2:50. There is nothing worse than someone who overstays their time on stage (well… I’ve seen authors cut off midstream… that’s worse).
  5. Speak slowly and remember: no one wants you to fail.

Judy Penz Sheluk is the author of the Glass Dolphin Mysteries (The Hanged Man’s Noose; A Hole in One) and the Marketville Mysteries (Skeletons in the Attic; Past & Present). Her short stories appear in several collections.

Judy is also a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves on the Board of Directors, representing Toronto/Southwestern Ontario. Find her at http://www.judypenzsheluk.com.