3 Tips for Speaking in Public
It makes sense that a lot of writers are ridiculously freaked out to give public presentations. Not only is public speaking the #1 most common fear (higher even than death, so I’ve heard), but also many writers tend to be introverted by nature. Part of the appeal of writing is that we can live out our days in quiet and seclusion.
But public speaking is, for many, an unavoidable part of the writing career. Whether you’re giving a reading at a bookstore, teaching a writing workshop, presenting to a class, or participating on a conference panel, chances are you’ll be called on to talk to a group at some point.
I am one of those weird writers that actually enjoys presenting in front of people. That isn’t to say I don’t get nervous, but for me the nervousness translates into added energy—anyone who’s seen me speak can vouch for my excessive hand gestures.
Here are some techniques I use to stay calm and grounded, and even enjoy the experience.
Being unprepared is the absolute worst thing you can do to yourself if you tend to get jitters. Depending on the type of presentation, try to spend at least a few minutes giving thought to what you plan to say – and much longer if it’s a workshop or structured speech.
Decide your main talking points and the order you’ll give them. Write them down and then practice, practice, practice! Give the speech in front of a mirror or your webcam. Present to a trusted friend who won’t judge or criticize. Practice it in the shower. Practice until it feels natural. If you’re using props or a powerpoint presentation, run through it all a few times as if it were the live show.
If you’re giving a reading from your book, read it out loud a couple times beforehand, so that you can look up any words you may not be sure how to pronounce.
If your presentation is more laid back or Q&A-based, such as on a group panel, consider what questions might be asked and some responses you might have for them. It doesn’t have to be entirely rehearsed, but this will help keep you from rambling aimlessly when questions gets asked.
Remember #1: You’ve Already Won Them Over
For the most part, your presentations as an author are not akin to those painful presentations you had to give back in high school about topics that nobody in your class cared about. People who come to a book signing or writing workshop are there because they honestly want to know about you, your book, your craft, or your industry. They are interested and curious. They want to learn. Many of them will already be fans—if not of you, then at least of books and reading in general.
By the mere act of having had success in your writing career (whatever that success has been), you have already won them over, so you don’t need to go into a speaking opportunity feeling defensive or as though you have something to prove. Instead, just be natural, and allow your passion and enthusiasm to shine. After all, passion and enthusiasm are contagious.
Remember #2: It’s Only an Hour (or other specified amount of time)
Whether or not you’ve practiced your presentations backward and forward a gazillion times, whether or not you’re about to go up before your biggest fans and cheerleaders, sometimes the nerves still come on—and sometimes they come on strong. My last technique that I use when I just can’t shake those jitters is to repeat a mantra, such as:
Nothing lasts forever.
This too shall pass.
It’s only an hour.
Or whatever similar catch phrase appeals to you. Because that’s the truth of it. This is one hour of your life (or however long the event is scheduled to last). Even if it’s terrible. Even if you can’t remember what you were going to say or you fumble your way through it all. Even if you completely flop. It’s only an hour, and then you will move on. You will get over it. Your career will not be ruined, your life will not be over. This, too, shall pass.
And really, how bad can a single hour be?
So that’s it—my top three techniques for keeping calm and carrying on when I speak in front of people.
What say you, readers—are any of you excited for this aspect of the writing career? Dreading it? Have any other speaking tips that have worked for you?