Imagine this: your first book hits the bookshelves next month. Your publicist has organised a flurry of promotional activities—an interview on ABC radio, some author talks at neighbourhood libraries, maybe even a panel spot at an upcoming writers’ festival. Then you glance at your calendar and feel a rising sense of panic.
Truth is, you’re terrified of public speaking.
Believe it or not, most people feel nervous before they speak in public. Here are some simple tips and techniques to help allay your fears, and give your book every chance of success in a crowded market.
A speech or a conversation?
These days, there’s a trend towards author conversations, rather than set speeches. Conversations take some of the weight off the writer’s shoulders. A capable interviewer will help calm your nerves, while also drawing you out. If you would rather be interviewed than present a speech, let your publicist know from the outset.
Preparation is the key to seemingly effortless presentations. Good speakers know their topic inside-out. As a writer, you’re already ahead of the curve. After all, no one knows your book better than you. Draw out the key points you wish to make, and the anecdotes which illuminate them.
Know your audience
Find out whom you’ll be speaking to. Consider their demographics, their interests, their likely expectations. Then pitch your presentation to meet their needs—and fuel their dreams.
Like it or not, your interviewer and audience will also be interested in your personal story. What inspired you to write your book? What challenges did you face? How did you overcome them? Remember: many readers are also aspiring writers. The business of writing intrigues them as much as the stories in your book.
Most importantly: be yourself. Given the choice between an authentic presentation and a polished performance, most audiences would prefer to hear you speak from the heart.
When we feel stressed we sometimes forget to breathe. We speak too quickly, and our voice loses its power. Slow down. Allow yourself time to breathe. Allow your audience time to absorb your ideas.
And if your mind goes blank, taking a deep breath can help reset the executive function in your brain. It’s just like rebooting a computer, except the effects are instantaneous. Go back to your previous sentence, regather the threads of the conversation, and move your story forward!
The perfect is the enemy of the good
You have something valuable to say. But wanting to speak in eloquent, grammatically perfect sentences can tighten you up. So as you’re speaking, keep moving forward. You don’t have the luxury of editing your words. As a writer, you’ve experienced the freedom that comes with an uninhibited first draft. Simply bring the same liberated attitude to your public speaking. You’ll enjoy yourself more, and your audience will appreciate your relaxed conversational style.
One of the first principles of improvisational theatre is to say yes to anything your partner offers. Saying no robs your performance of momentum. The same applies to interviews, and when answering audience questions. Work with your questioners to keep your energy levels high.
And if someone makes a suggestion you can’t accept? Try responding with Yes, and. Acknowledge the validity of the idea, then offer a different perspective. For example: ‘Yes, many people might agree with that. And here’s an intriguing alternative…’
Preparation is the key to seemingly effortless presentations.
Delivering a speech
Sometimes, you have no choice but to present a formal speech. If so, negotiate your timing with the organiser. In most cases, shorter is better. TED talks pack a lot of information into eighteen minutes without outliving their welcome. A punchy eighteen minute talk followed by an extended question time will engage your audience more than a meandering fifty-five minute speech followed by an awkward silence and a hasty exit.
Here are some simple tips to make the most of your speaking time:
But my first draft is months from completion!
Excellent news. Public speaking skills are essential for any serious writer, so you have more time to develop them. Why not join a public speaking group? You’ll learn to speak spontaneously, to weave stories out of thin air. You’ll receive immediate feedback about the ideas and techniques that work, and those which don’t. You’ll reconnect with the cadences and power of the spoken word. Who knows? You may even find your writing starts to build muscle in all the right places.♦
Ian Demack is a writer (The Modern Machiavelli), public speaking coach and hypnotherapist. He enjoys nothing more than watching people flourish as they gain confidence in themselves as speakers. Check out iandemack.com to learn more.
Published May 16, 2017
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