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