Keynote Speaking Like a Grown-Up


I remember going to conferences and wishing that I could be one of the authors whom attendees were there to see. I wanted to stand in front of a room of writers and talk about the struggles and rewards, the publishing industry that is sometimes moves like a glacier and sometimes like a roller coaster.

Then I was invited to be the afternoon keynote speaker at the Arkansas Writers Conference. I said “yes” even though my anxiety was screaming “HELL NO!” I’ve led workshops and given very short talks, but a 45-minute keynote speech was new terrain for me.

After doing absolutely nothing about it for a couple of months other than some occasional pacing and nail-biting, I finally started preparing. I was on a read, write, repeat schedule for several days. I sought advice from friends and watched YouTube videos of other writers speaking.

I wrote my speech as honestly as possible, touching on the simultaneous terror and joy of my position. Following the advice of friends who have gone before me, I did my best to be honest and authentic.

In the days leading up to the conference, my anxiety level grew to a fever pitch. But here’s the thing: it was totally fine, even enjoyable. A friend told me to remember that the crowd would want me to succeed, and I could feel that vibe from them. My cousin was there for support, which was a giant help. And originally I was worried about toiling the morning away with my nerves getting worse while waiting for my 1:30 time slot. But instead I was able to meet some attendees and sell a few books before I took my turn at the podium. Every person I met was incredibly kind.

Like so many other times in my life, I worried for nothing. It went great, but even if it hadn’t, I would have had something to write about. And really that’s the most important thing.