Public speaking. There, I’ve said it.
Now come on out from behind that stack of books. I feel your fear. I really do. But you CAN do it, and it will be WORTH IT!
So, why would a writer need to learn public speaking? I mean, don’t writers sit on their own in a room all day and, well, write?
If you think about it, there’s a couple of obvious reasons. Like when you’re as famous as Harry Potter author JK Rowling, Harvard might ask you to do their commencement speech.
She got a good laugh when she began with: “The first thing I would like to say is ‘thank you’. Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honour, but the weeks of fear and nausea I have endured at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight.” Most of us can identify with feeling like that about a big speech!
And even if you’re in a less blockbuster-ish section of the bookstore, it will be handy when your publisher sends you on a crazy round of events at a book festival. Check out my podcast with award-winning Australian memoirist Kristina Olsson, which we recorded at the Brisbane Writers Festival. Do you think she’d have given such a useful and entertaining interview if she hadn’t learned and practised public speaking? She’d been shunted around from author panel to writers’ workshop to book signing all day that day, and had to speak at all of them, too, not just the interviews. Talk talk talk. It’s a wonder she didn’t lose her voice!
Yes, if you get published, there will come a day when your publisher will expect you to Talk. It’s not the sort of thing you want to learn in a hurry. Why not start practising now, and be ready?
For self-publishers, it’s even more important. You are your own marketing department, and the ability to communicate on your feet is going to make that task so much easier and more enjoyable.
Is there a public speaking club near you? I joined my local Toastmasters club a couple of years ago to revive my public speaking skills from back-in-the-day, and it was nothing like I expected.
I went along to that first meeting, all earnest and sweaty-palmed, expecting a bunch of high powered businessmen and an evening of sheer terror. But instead I found an incredibly friendly group aged from early 20s right up to 60s and beyond, and from all walks of life, who were supportive and encouraging and just plain good company. Many of them were shy introverts challenging their own boundaries. These days I know I’ll be wakeful after I get back home on Toastmaster’s night… not from anxiety but because I’m so hyped up by all the laughter and fun we’ve enjoyed at the meeting.
If there’s no suitable clubs near you, consider the local community college or evening courses. There are many short courses in public speaking where you can meet with other people like yourself and learn new skills.
And there are even online options. A quick google found this free course at the University of Washington, and there are lots of others. You can learn the theory, interact with other students online, and record speeches on your computer for review and feedback.
Practice is the key of course, and you can get it anywhere. Don’t restrict your thinking. Lots of organisations need speakers. Your local mothers’ group, citizen’s association or church might be a good place to start. It’s all good experience and it all helps knock the prickly edges off those nerves. Every time you deliver a speech and it doesn’t kill you, you grow in confidence. I know that one from personal experience.
The benefits for writers go much further than surviving the Harvard commencement speech.
- It will increase your confidence to make videos and podcasts, valuable parts of every writer’s marketing toolkit these days.
- It will help you develop the option of adding Speaker to your resume… something that many career writers have found valuable. British author Joanna Penn says public speaking now makes up 30-40% of her income.
- You’ll be more comfortable when someone wants to interview you about your book.
- You’ll take book launches in your stride.
- You’ll think more clearly when delivering the dreaded “elevator pitch” to a literary agent.
- A track record of public speaking increases your saleability to a literary agent or publisher—they are looking for authors who will be assets to the marketing program.
And of course, you’ll be all set when you’re called up to receive the Pulitzer or Booker Prize. 😉
One benefit that took me by surprise… I found that my editing skills improved after joining my public speaking club. I think it was something to do with learning to react to the pressure of impromptu speaking. My brain worked faster and I was able to make better judgement calls more quickly. I also became better at expressing my views clearly and quickly in business discussions.
So there’s lots of benefits. When are you starting?
Fear not! You CAN do it. Do I sound like a cheerleader? Well, yes, but I really have seen this one thing help so many people. I hope it has wonderful benefits for you.
What do you think? Are you already doing public speaking? Have you thought about it? What’s holding you back?
Featured image via Bigstock/jorgophotography
Hi Belinda, Thank you for a very helpful article (though also a terrifying one!). I’ve always been incredibly shy and nervous about public speaking (or even speaking up in the classroom), but since becoming published, and getting to the final stages of my Master’s Degree in Creative Writing, I’ve decided that a logical next step would be to look for teaching and tutoring opportunities. Cue the need to work on my public speaking skills (or lack thereof). I’ve decided that the only way to overcome my fear is to JUST DO IT. So I’ve begun by looking for volunteering roles where I might need to speak informally in front of a very small group of people. For me, as a writer, this serves two purposes. The first is to get me out there, in the community, doing writerly things. The second is that it will allow me to practise my public speaking skills on a small, manageable level which would hopefully assist me should I ever need to speak in front of a larger group later on.
I heard Irvine Welsh stumble and hesitate through a reading of Trainspotting before it became a film. I couldn’t believe he was so uncomfortable, but some people are.
While my voice is true and versatile, I have to hide my quaking hands when I public speak. From bible passages on a Sunday to professional presentations, my hands are a give away.
Belinda Pollard says
I agree Alexander… the hands can be so hard to control. One tip I was given years ago was to make firm and deliberate gestures. Gentle, hesitant movements show the “flutter”, whereas if we actively use the muscles in our hands it helps still the shake. I’ve found it helpful, even though it doesn’t always completely conceal it.
Doug Bittinger says
Hey: this mustache is REAL (and yes, I grew it to hide behind).
Public performance of any kind has always terrified me. Except once. In high school I took a creative writing class that included a segment called “Speech” which turned out to be public speaking. Had I known that was in there I would not have taken the class. But I didn’t, it was, and I was trapped. We were to give a short speech (5 ins, I think) on our favorite hobby. I entitled mine “Modeling”. Naturally, my classmates misunderstood.
I was sweating bullets as I awaited my “turn” (like a turn at the guillotine) even though my written work had received high praise from the teacher. Writing was not the problem, standing up front and talking was the problem.
My talk was actually about building model cars and aircraft. I brought samples to pass around as examples. Most snickered as I started and I wanted to crawl back to my seat. But as the samples were being passed around while I described techniques used to produce the high level of detail and their eyes got wide looking at my work, I developed the confidence to do a passable job on the speech.
What I learned from this was that speaking about something on which I am knowledgeable and confident in my abilities is best. And visual aids help.
Belinda Pollard says
LOVE your story, Doug! And by telling us your anecdote you have communicated two useful things: speak on a topic you’re passionate about, and use appropriate and engaging visual aids to remove barriers between you and your audience. Something for us all to keep in mind.
And what you may have discovered in that high school speech is that you are actually a gifted speaker, despite your reluctance. Sorry to tell you this, but nerves are not a sign that a person isn’t a good speaker!! Lots of the world’s best speakers had to struggle with intense nerves at first!
Now, when are you lining up your next speaking engagement as part of your writing career? 😉
Sally Jenkins says
Hi Belinda, I realised towards the end of last year that I needed to gain the confidence to speak in public if I was to ever become a ‘proper’ write and be able to promote my work, run workshops etc. So I joined my local Speakers Club which sounds similar to your Toastmasters. I was terrified when first asked to speak ‘off the cuff’ for 3 minutes but everyone is very friendly & supportive. Next week I give my first prepared 8 minute speech at the club. A couple of weeks later a friend has asked me to talk for an hour on e-book publishing to her creative writing class – I’m quaking in my boots but it’s an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Wish me luck! And thanks for an informative post.
Belinda Pollard says
Well done, Sally! You are an inspiration to us all.
Your Speakers Club does sound similar. At my club, prepared speeches are 7 minutes (longer for special purposes) and off-the-cuff is 2 minutes.
A couple of times I’ve practised at my club shorter versions of speeches that I’ll be giving in “real world” situations, so bear that in mind too as a possibility. Depends on each club and its rules, of course. But I have found that it really helps me, to have given even part of the speech previously in a “safe” environment, so to speak.
Wishing you a wonderful adventure as you develop as an author-speaker! 🙂
Effrosyni Moschoudi says
Oh my goodness, I am reeling with nerves just thinking about it LOL But it’s not because I haven’t done it before – I am just seriously out of practice. I have worked as an exec in large companies for years and used to do the odd presentation for 30 odd people at a time. I remember clearly hyperventilating and my mouth drying up but somehow I always did it and got the well-sought fervent applause in the end. Thank you for this fab post Belinda – it reminded me that I have to go back to that somehow. My mind is working already, trying to find possible venues. I agree it is absolutely indispensable a skill to an author and well done on this precious article that contains so much info and ideas! I am so pleased I subscribed to your newsletter and thank you for the warm welcome!!!!!
Belinda Pollard says
I know just how you feel, Effrosyni… although I have to say my nerves have quietened quite a bit since I started practising more. It really has made a difference to me. I still get nervous, but only enough to make me speak with more energy, rather than so much it cripples me! Nerves are OK. I think we need to embrace our nervousness and see what good it can produce, rather than try to fight it all the time. 🙂
I’m sure your experience from all those years will come back to you. Make sure to let us know how you go with your determination to start getting some more speaking opportunities!
Cate Pane says
Great article! In my previous professional work, I had quite a few public speaking experiences. I have just booked my first engagement based on my blog/book in progress. I am also going to be interviewed on radio. I believe that these experiences will help me to consolidate my ideas into my most basic principles.
Belinda Pollard says
So true, Cate. I often use my practice speeches at Toastmasters to cover topics that I’m going to blog or write about. Getting up and talking about it really sharpens the main points in my mind and helps me with the later writing process.
carol cram says
Good article. I fortunately love public speaking so it’s the part of my marketing strategy I’m most looking forward to!
Belinda Pollard says
That’s wonderful that you love it, Carol. Hope you get lots of opportunities to speak as you move forward with your marketing!
Very Intresting Article,I like it!!=)
LadyLagoon-that Italian Writer/www.my-diary.org/read/d/809141
Belinda Pollard says
Thanks, Lady. Have a great day. 🙂