Guest Post–When Writers Have To Speak


Today’s post is courtesy of Karel Henneberger, one of the Writers of the Desert Rose Cafe. You may reach her at writerKMH@gmail.com.

Writers write. Right? Right.

But sometimes writers also have to speak. In public. To a group of people. A large group of people. And not people you know.

Most people get nervous when they have to speak in front of an audience, even a small group of friends. And many find public speaking a totally paralyzing experience, mostly because we are all afraid of being publicly humiliated.

Some advisors say to picture your audience naked. Hmmm. Not a pretty picture when speaking to adults, and a worrying one when speaking to children.

But there are several things you can do to help you overcome stage fright.

First, you need to decide what you will talk about. If you are asked to speak about a particular topic–explaining, informing, or showing something, then you are well on your way. Whatever you talk about, remember that old advice–Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Then tell them what you told them.

Also decide whether you want to use visual aids or just wing it. Use your aids to supplement, not be your program.

There are many websites that can help you write your speech (though don’t plan to stick to the exact words you write)

Well before THE DAY:

  • Practice your speech in front of a mirror
  • Read your speech out loud
  • Read s l o w l y
    • When you’re nervous, you tend to speak and move more quickly
    • It’s hard to understand when someone speaks too fast
    • Speaking  s l o w l ynot only gives your brain a chance to catch up with your tongue, it is calming–a good thing for a speaker
  • Time it several times to make sure you’re consistent.
  • Start by READING your notes, then begin to just glance at them
  • Then try to give the speech without notes (that probably won’t work, but it will show you where you need to brush up)
  • Make very basic notes to take with you on THE DAY

Besides the speech, decide:

  • What to wear–this will depend upon your audience
    • Is the occasion casual?
    • More formal?
    • Businesslike?
  • What your audience is expecting to hear
    • New information
    • Solutions to a problem
    • Entertainment
  • Know your strengths–and weaknesses
    • If you have a weak voice, use a microphone (practice with one first)
    • If you are very tall or very short, make sure the podium, microphone, etc is set at the correct height
    • Consider the speech as a role you will play–dress the part and you’ll be more likely to act the part
    • The right clothes will make you feel more confident
    • Consider a shopping trip (a thrift store outfit won’t cost much and can be kept for similar occasions

Before walking onto that empty scary stage try one of these ideas:

  • Do meditation exercises just before going onstage–this requires learning specific techniques
  • Simply close your eyes and think of a favorite place, a place where you have been happy–this also needs some before-hand practice
  • Carry a worry stone in your pocket. When you feel yourself losing control, just slip your hand in your pocket and rub the stone

When you are standing in the middle of the stage:

  • Take three deep breaths (more might cause you to hyperventilate)
  • SMILE
    • Nobody will know you are not smiling at them
    • It will make you feel more relaxed and confident
  • Pick three people in the audience–one in front and one on each side near the back
    • While you talk, move your head from one to the other
    • This makes it appear that you are looking at most of the people in the audience.
  • If that is too hard to do, look at an empty seat, a flower arrangement, a pillar, or a decoration on the wall, again moving your head from one to the other

The three most important things to remember when you must give a speech are:

  1. Know your topic
  2. KNOW your topic
  3. KNOW YOUR TOPIC

When you know your topic thoroughly, you will find you can improvise if necessary. Know your topic so well that you can continue even if:

  • You lose your place in your notes
    • Take a deep breath and fake it
    • Joke about being clumsy (the audience will most likely laugh–go with it)
  • The lights go out
    • Joke about someone not paying its electric bill (again, laughs relax everyone)
    • Ask the audience questions about their knowledge of the topic (ask them to raise their hands if they __________.Again, laughter helps)
    • Let them ask you questions (You really know your topic, so you will have answers and if you don’t, use a politician’s ploy–give a non-answer–talk about a somewhat related subject that you do know about)
    • And DON’T MOVE AROUND THE STAGE until the lights come back on
  • Your visual aids suddenly fall to the floor
    • Say something like, “Well, if you could see it, this chart would show…” (laughs again)
    • While someone picks up your stuff, go on to the next part of your speech.

Really KNOWING your topic will let you turn a potential disaster into a success. And success will give you confidence. Confidence will make it easier to give the next speech. So, don’t be afraid to be a writer who speaks.

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2 responses »

  1. Public speaking = AHHHHH! I’ve never been able to speak in front of groups of people. I just got used to speaking up at work meetings and I’ve been there 5 years, but there are only like 10 of us and I know them all well. Maybe, if I make the big time, I can just hire someone to speak for me. 😉

    • Your blog is a good place to develop your voice. You have LOTS to offer. You KNOW things others don’t and want to know. If you think of your speaking as HELPING someone else, it makes it less scary. We all like to help someone, don’t we? 🙂

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