Public Speaking for Writers

There you are.  Maybe you’re at a conference, a book signing, or in front of a classroom of eager students ready to learn about writing.  You’re standing up, they’re sitting down (or maybe standing-after all, you’re super popular and the room is packed and it’s standing room only in the back.  Lucky you!), their eager faces are glued to your eyes and their ears are ready to hear the sweet nectar of your voice.  Your paper is in front of you.  Your adrenaline starts pumping.  Over and over you ask yourself—

Why me?  Why I am here?!

Fear not, my reclusive writer.  Here are some hints to help you not only survive this harrowing experience but maybe even have fun too.  Ok, we’ll focus on survival.

1.  STAND UP STRAIGHT.
Yep, you read it.  The number one piece of advice I can give to people reading their writing out loud is to have good posture.  Your feet are shoulder-width apart.  Hold back those shoulders, lift up your head, suck in that stomach.  You’ve heard it from your mom, your doctor, your yoga instructor.  Good posture makes you look confidant and professional.  It also helps you maintain good breathing techniques.  Which brings me to my next point….

2.  PRACTICE GOOD BREATHING TECHNIQUES
While you are standing (you are standing, right? practice as we go along!), breathe in your nostrils, breathe out.  Take a few good normal breaths.  Now, pretend like your lungs are in your stomach.  Take in a deep breath.  Look down-can you see your belly expanding?  This is what voice coaches and music instructors call deep breathing.  Too often we take those shallow, hiccup breaths that last 0.234 seconds.  You’re hardly getting any oxygen at all!  Consequently, this technique is also good for relieving stress.  But most importantly, it will help you with number three.

3.  PROJECT YOUR VOICE
No!  Don’t scream in my ear!  That’s not what I meant!  Speak clearly and confidently, but don’t yell.  Please.  Ok, you’re standing, you’re breathing.  Take up whatever is sitting next you and read it out loud. Your cats won’t mind-they want the company.  That was a good start.  Now I want you to read it out loud again, but this time pretend like the air from your stomach-lungs is hitting the wall in front of you.  Like, full on, West Wind style force.  If you keep this image in your head, your throat will open up.  Your mouth will probably get bigger.  In short, you will speak with more energy behind your voice which will quiet those shaky nerves and those little old ladies in the back saying, “We can’t hear you!”  You will need to keep those deep breaths coming.  It may make you more tired to read in this way at first.  That’s ok!  It’s better to practice good posture, good techniques than to slip into old habits because they’re “easier.”

4.  PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
If you hate speaking in front of people (because really, who doesn’t?) practice these techniques at home with your cat.  Once you get used to projecting your voice and standing up straight (quit slouching on that podium!) it will come naturally.  Seek out opportunities to speak in front of people.  But most importantly, practice giving your speech/lecture/book-reading before you read it in front of other people. Single out those technical words or SAT words as we used to call them in high school.  Reading them in your head is one thing; tripping over a seven-syllable word in front of a live audience is another.  Plus, reading your stuff out loud is good writing practice as well.  That delicately nuanced piece of prose with too many adjectives?  Did you even realize it was a run-on sentence?  No, you didn’t, because you haven’t read it out loud.

And my final piece of advice: Don’t drink anything carbonated before you get up there to speak.  You’re welcome.

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3 thoughts on “Public Speaking for Writers

  1. Misty says:

    I think that last bit of advice would've served me well several times in my past career (where I did a few public speaking gigs)…NO FIZZY DRINKS BEFORE YOU GO ON!! πŸ™‚

  2. Laura Campbell says:

    Great advice. I didn't squash my fear of public speaking until I started teaching (one positive thing from of the experience). While in college, I was required to take a speech class. It was awful. I spent hours researching, writing and reading over my speech, but the minute I stood up in front of my peers I freaked. One thing I failed to do: read my speech aloud. It seems so minor, but I believe it is the most important thing you can do besides breathing to avoid fainting on stage.

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