Yesterday, 10th June, I spent an hour in live conversation online with Sally Ember. Sally is a writer and writing tutor who has ventured into the world of Google+ Hangouts in a way beneficial to readers and writers. She invites writers to share their thoughts with readers in her weekly show, Changes.
I choose to write because I’m not a comfortable public speaker. That’s a common enough position for authors, I think. But I do actually have experience in public speaking, since I was a staff trainer for a few years and I also represented my local unemployment benefit office at a number of public events. On one occasion, I addressed a gathering of over 200 delegates to explain how their unemployment benefits would be affected if they retired early. Another time I had to be smuggled from an angry gathering of over 100 foundry workers after I’d been obliged to tell them that their strike action meant they would get no unemployment benefit.
So, I have dealt with this situation of speaking in public relatively frequently. But I’ve never been comfortable with it and I don’t enjoy it. It doesn’t give me the ability to weigh my words, to consider and select the precise phrase, so I tend to hesitate quite a bit. Only writing allows you to formulate your thoughts before they’re presented for public consumption.
It was therefore with some trepidation that I accepted Sally’s invitation to expose myself live online and join her in an informal chat.
Sally, however, is clearly aware of the possible nervousness of her guests. She employs techniques to build confidence and to prepare them for the event. We had a trial run-through a week or so before the event, where we were able to test the technology and I was able to see how the process works. We were also able to get to know a little more about each other in spite of the many miles of ocean between our locations.
On the day of the broadcast, we spent forty minutes chatting and ensuring that all was working. Sally advised me on lighting and gave hints about what clothes might look best on air, and we primed each other about potential topics of conversation.
The hour went quickly. I was relatively relaxed during most of the chat, where we discussed a number of topics, such as character in fiction, book covers, genres and other items of mutual interest to writers of speculative fiction. Towards the end of the session, Sally asked me her standard question; the one she asks all her guests. This was a fairly comprehensive query about my feelings about changes in life. I was fine to start with but then the technology let us down and Sally disappeared for a short while. I was on my own, but the camera was still running. At this point I would most definitely have rather been writing than talking. But I soldiered on. Sally had suggested I had something prepared to read in the event of such a technical hitch. And I’d intended to have a book handy, but an earlier, unscheduled, delivery of building materials for some work I’m doing on the house had rather interrupted my preparation (it arrived only minutes before I was due to start the initial chat with Sally!). I was just finding a book from my shelves when Sally returned to the screen, having had to log back into the system to re-engage with the audience and me. That was good. The session ended as well as it had begun.
So, would I advise other writers to get involved? You bet! It was a great experience, a way of learning new things and of imparting information to readers. And, on a purely practical point, it encouraged me to change my internet connection from wi-fi to a wired route, which is, of course, more efficient. That was something I’d been meaning to do since the house move, but Sally’s concerns about the potential for signal disruption using wi-fi spurred me to action.
I enjoyed the process and the actual session, in spite of the small hiccup. There were some issues with sound quality, with an echo appearing for no apparent reason during part of the broadcast. That was something that Sally was unaware of and, to me, it was only a minor irritation. But on the Youtube recording it’s quite noticeable, which is a shame. (You can catch that by clicking this link) There was, it seems, an update to the Google+ Hangout system and that may have been the cause of the problem.
Nevertheless, I suggest you have a go yourself. Here’s the link to Sally’s page where all is explained. She’s very helpful and guides her guests through the process.