Reading you under the table since 2012

How I Avoid Turning Red During Every Interview

by

Jodi Meadows

Recently, a friend asked me how I get through interviews and Q&A sessions at book events. How do I know what to say? How do I keep from sounding dumb? Authors, especially, seem to be an overall introverted bunch (there are exceptions!), so how does one turn themselves on for these kinds of things?

This was a huge concern for me, too! Writers spend so much time not just alone in front of the keyboard, but revising everything we say — and you can’t rewind and edit your phrase to make it perfect when you’re standing in front of a crowd of people. You’re stuck with whatever just came out of your mouth.

Though I’m still in a constant state of learning how to avoid making a fool of myself, I did a few things that helped me keep my face from going scarlet every five seconds:

1. I looked at all the author interviews I could find online. I pulled out all the questions they were asked, figured out how I’d answer, read what other authors said — that sort of thing. I also compiled a master document with my answers to dozens of questions.

So I did a lot of prep work before anyone ever sent an interview request, which felt a bit presumptuous, but was very, very useful for showing me what kind of things readers tend to ask about.

2. When I met my publisher for the first time, she (very nicely) asked me where I got the idea for my book. I sort of shrugged and said I didn’t know. She also asked me another book-relevant question, that I gave a one-word answer for. And (again, very nicely), she sighed and said I’d need to work on my responses to those sorts of questions. My responses needed to be more interesting, she said.

So I began practicing my stories. You know, the ones people ask about a lot: where did the idea come from, how the book sold, behind the cover, and any funny/inspiring stories that might get told a lot. I wrote them down, told them out loud, and the first few times I had to tell the stories in front of a crowd, I was still very nervous — but I knew what I was going to say.

3. I live in the middle-of-nowhere Virginia, so we don’t get a lot of book signings out here, but I tried to go to as many as I could — and watch signing events online (live or on YouTube) — and study how the authors responded to questions and how they interacted with the audience. I wanted to know what worked for getting a reaction from the audience.

(Yeah, I realize that could sound a little creepy.)

4. For panels with Q&A sessions, I like to have a few answers for various questions, because someone else will inevitably have your answer, too. Which is tough if you’re the last person to answer the question! (But really, sometimes I just end it with “Ditto!”)

5. This one isn’t prep-work, but it’s something I immediately wanted to put into practice (not just for interviews and events, but for life, really): stay positive.

Which basically means I avoid saying anything negative. If a reader asks about a book I read but didn’t like, I never say I didn’t like it; I praise it for something it did well. If an interviewer asks me to list some books I don’t like — I simply don’t answer that question.

Sometimes this can be a challenge, and sometimes I say things I wish I could rewind and change. But moving past it quickly (rather than trying to defend or explain or backpedal) helps, especially ending on a positive, encouraging note.

Friendliness, a positive attitude, and encouragement can go a long way when speaking in public.

And, I’m going to say it again: practice. The more events I do, the more comfortable I get doing them.

What about you? Any thoughts? Ideas? Tricks for breaking out of your introvert shell in order to speak above mouse volume?

Jodi Meadows lives and writes in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, with her husband, a Kippy*, and an alarming number of ferrets. She is a confessed book addict, and has wanted to be a writer ever since she decided against becoming an astronaut. She is the author of INCARNATE and ASUNDER (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen).
*A Kippy is a cat.

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23 Comments

  1. Posted May 8, 2013 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    Such a good post! Hope to one day put all of Jodi’s advice into practice.

    Incidentally – someone told me a great trick for getting rid of blushing (which I use ALL THE TIME!). Just discreetly pinch your thumb or finger, hard as you like. Your brain can’t process two sensations at the same time, so it forgets about blushing and focuses on your finger. Hey presto! No awful tomato-cheeks. Seriously. Changed my life!

    • Posted May 8, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      Oooo, good trick! I think I’d heard that about pinching your thumb before, but must have immediately forgotten about it! Hah. I’ll have to try that next time.

  2. Alex Ray
    Posted May 8, 2013 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    ahhh I’ve been a little worried about this side of being published too! So this post was excellent – thank you! All of these are fantastic tips, especially number 5. I’m the Oscar the grouch of my family, as well as a blabber mouth, so I’ll need some practice with that one. :P

    • Posted May 8, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      Haha. Yeah, you don’t have to stop being grouchy, as long as your grouchy is funny (you can get away with a lot if you make it funny), but definitely practice avoiding saying things you’ll regret!

  3. Posted May 8, 2013 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Oh my gosh. This is the best post ever. SO very helpful! <3 it!

  4. Amelia Loken
    Posted May 8, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    This was so great!!! I can turn on my personality when I’m “on stage” but sometimes I just turn into an entertaining fool and forget half of what I want to say. I love the idea of practicing the storytelling. That’s something I can do. Thanks so much for sharing!!!

    • Posted May 8, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      It helps a LOT! I also read aloud for a friend (via webcam!) before I ever read to an audience. She kept telling me: SLOW DOWN. READ LOUDER. :D

  5. Posted May 8, 2013 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Really great post! I love how you did that pre-research. Such a good idea to prepare!

    • Posted May 8, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      Haha, yeah, I’m a nerd like that. But it’s SO useful sometimes! Glad this is useful for you!

  6. Posted May 8, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Well, I’ve seen you twice talk in public and I think you do a great job!

    • Posted May 8, 2013 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      Haha, thanks, Brooke! It’s definitely getting easier! (Though I still get nervous every time.)

  7. Posted May 8, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    I love this post! When I was younger, I was definitely an introvert. I kept to myself more often than not, and preferred being alone to being surrounded by people. But for some reason, these days, I’m much more comfortable talking to other people and initiating conversation and being in the public eye. I’m not sure if it’s a permanent development or just a fluke where I find confidence, but I’m definitely hoping it stays! I do think your tips are super helpful :)

    • Posted May 8, 2013 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I think it’s something introverts just learn how to do sometimes. I CAN do the public thing and be just fine (mostly) these days, but darn if I don’t need plenty of alone time after that to collect myself.

  8. Posted May 8, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    This post is brilliant. I am such an awkward public speaker. I get flustered and then I talk too fast and I’m shocked I haven’t thrown up on anyone yet. So lots of practice and studying how other authors do it. Got it. *is sick*

    • Posted May 8, 2013 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

      Hee, well, I don’t know how others do it, just what I had to do to prepare myself for it. It worked! (I think.) But a lot of it, too, is just geting used to doing it.

  9. Stela Brinzeanu
    Posted May 8, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    What a great post! Thank you for taking the time to share it with us! I started to incorporate your advice as we speak.
    And, Carlie, I will definitely give ‘pinching my thumb’ a go.

    Thank you!

    • Posted May 8, 2013 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

      I think we’re all going to be pinching our thumbs from now on! Should be hilarious if anyone compiles a video.

  10. Posted May 8, 2013 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    This is such a great post! I’m an introvert, so thinking about having to do this someday makes me a little dizzy. But I love to do research and attend book signing events (I’m lucky to be close to two indie stores that hosts them frequently). I love the last one: stay positive. It’s such an important thing to do in life.

    Carlie’s advice on pinching my thumb will be used very frequently in the future. I tend to blush whenever more than four people are looking at me while I talk. Ugh. Sorrows of an introvert :(

    • Posted May 8, 2013 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

      *patpat* Yeah, it can be hard being an introvert in an extrovert world, but you learn to cope.

      I’m so jealous of your indie stores! How nice that you get such awesome signings where you are. I really wish we had a bigger reader population in my area, too!

  11. Posted May 9, 2013 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    Jodi, this is wonderful advice! I must echo the tip to practice, practice, practice. And really visualize what it will be like to stand in front of school kids or up on a stage or whatever. The first time an answer comes out of your mouth, it will sound pretty garbled and imprecise, if you’re like me. But if you keep practicing OUT LOUD, you do get better and better.

    • Posted May 10, 2013 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      Yep!! The more you do it, the better you get. That’s all there is to it!

  12. Posted May 12, 2013 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Hi Jodi- well written and as part of an authors’ coorperative in Maine, I’m trying to share similar messages that it only begins once the book is published. As you so accurately stated, many of us authors are introverts. It will sound funny, but I hit this topic head on and wrote a book about public-speaking. The premise is that we are surrounded with public-speaking moments, not just when we’re on stage or at a book signing. More importantly, the message is that most of our success will be contingent on our confidence level, not necessarily our communication skills. Practice and preparation are our friends! Thanks for sharing the article.
    - Thomas B. Dowd III, author of “From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide” (2013 Axiom Business Book Awards Gold Medal/2013 Honorable Mention Paris Book Festival)

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