As an author, I occasionally receive an invitation to visit a book club whose members are reading and discussing one of my novels. I know it’s an honor, but I also find these events nerve-wracking. What if they don’t like my book? What if they ask questions I can’t answer or spot errors I can’t defend?
My most recent invitation, however, presented an entirely new problem. The group was reading my debut novel, The Silver Suitcase. Yikes. I’ve penned six other books since that one. While the story would be fresh in their minds, I could barely remember the characters’ names. They sent out a quiz on the book to members ahead of time and included me in the email. At least one of their questions stumped me.
So, with two weeks remaining before the scheduled Zoom meeting, I decided to listen to the audio version of The Silver Suitcase. That way, I could refresh my memory while working around my kitchen. I confess I experienced a few cringe-worthy moments as I listened, which is not all bad. It means I’ve honed a few writing skills since composing that story.
At least I felt better prepared to chat with these readers who also enjoy public speaking. And that’s what makes this group unique. It’s a Toastmasters Club called “Talking Books.” My curiosity about how this combination might work was certainly piqued.
I learned that a requirement of joining this book club is that you must also belong to at least one “regular” Toastmasters club. Eighteen participants logged in on Saturday afternoon. After the general welcome, the Grammarian presented our word of the day: “departure.” The idea is to use the word as often as possible throughout the meeting when called upon to speak. I was well familiar with this practice.
But when it came time for Table Topics, I discovered they conduct theirs differently. Instead of having a random question thrown at you and having to speak for one and a half to two minutes with no preparation, this club divides into groups of four. Each group has ten minutes to discuss a different question about the book and select their spokesperson. When the larger group reconvenes, each spokesperson then addresses the question, summarizing the thoughts of the sub-group.
With the author present at this meeting, they replaced what would normally be a prepared speech with a panel discussion, giving the moderator an opportunity to practice a new skill. She appointed me to the panel along with three others and we took turns answering her well-thought-out questions. This was followed by an opportunity for me to speak for five minutes and answer more questions. Naturally, I used the chance to promote my other books because no author in their right mind would not.
After receiving the answers to the ten-question quiz (which I aced, thanks to having just listened to the book), hearing the Grammarian’s report, the General Evaluator’s report, and the Timer’s report, the Toastmaster gave closing comments and adjourned the meeting two hours after it began—twice the length of my club’s meetings!
Clearly, this group served to remind me that while each club is unique in its formatting, pace, and purpose, Toastmasters clubs across the globe provide a wonderful place to learn, grow, and have fun together. If you want to improve your public speaking skills in a safe environment, join Toastmasters. You can find a group near you HERE. You won’t regret it.