Speeches are like essays.
That’s it. That’s the magic. You have an introduction. You have a body, with supportive evidence for your topic, and then a conclusion. About 12.5% of your speech is introduction. About 12.5% goes to your conclusion.
That is, speeches are like essays until it comes to actually speaking.
When I say “speech” I mean any talk or presentation in front of people. So all those badly organized school presentations, all the boring lectures, all the wretched power points… all those count as speeches.
You may be surprised (or not at all) to find out that just because someone is a good writer, it doesn’t make them a good speaker. I think it’s easier to move from good speaker to solid writer because a well-written speech has all the nuts and bolts of a good essay, but an essay doesn’t automatically translate into a good speech.
This is because even if you write a good speech, it doesn’t mean anything if your delivery sucks. A well-organized talk does communicate ideas. You can skate by on a well-written speech. Delivery, however, is a place where writers stumble.
My guess, and this is just a guess, is because most people are afraid of public speaking.
In modern life, it’s one of the most important skills to have if you want any mobility in your career, and yet, it is a huge fear for most people. Perhaps it is the fear of judgment, or public humiliation. Whatever the case, when I was teaching public speaking many of my adult students shook like leaves, white-knuckled their notes, and talked into the floor with the best of them.
I was never like that.
I love speaking.
But being in front of people is something I enjoy in almost every context. And I’ve been doing it for a long time, which makes it easier for me. Still, as I write and practice a little talk of my own, I thought I’d share some tips and tricks for writers transitioning into speaking:
Breathe. Before I get on stage or take a podium, I close my eyes for a second and let out a deep breath. This is me getting into character and it also helps to calm any remaining jitters.
Practice. I practice my speech beforehand, but I’ve also been in front of people a lot. I used to perform music and had to talk off the cuff between songs. The more comfortable you are with being in front of people, the easier it is to do. The more comfortable you are with that specific speech, the easier it is to deliver well.
Pro tip: Use a mirror, friend, and or camera to practice beforehand. This way you have an idea of areas where you can improve (i.e. get rid of “um,” slow down, speed up, eye contact etc).
Smile. You’ll feel better immediately. People love smiles. Love them. It makes them feel good, and it puts you at ease.
Keep in mind, these people are present to hear you. They want to like you. They will be more forgiving than you realize. Don’t make a big deal of a mistake, and they won’t either.
Keep your legs loose. Do not lock your knees. This is a fast track to fainting by cutting off circulation. I’ve seen it happen.
Look around the audience, making eye contact. Don’t pick just one part of the audience. You want to connect with as many people as possible because this engages audience members. I don’t stick to one person for very long, but tend to make a circuit.
Most importantly, everyone gets nervous before speaking (even people who do it for a living). This is normal. And guess what? Your nerves are less noticeable than you realize. Your audience probably won’t be able to tell. Really.
Speaking can be fun. It is a great way to connect with readers and industry leaders. It can help you position yourself as an expert in a topic. If you as a writer have any intention of being famous or promoting your work, you’re going to have to speak at some point. When you do, make sure your speech is well-written, and then have a kick-ass delivery. Your audience will thank you.
What works for you? Have some tips? Leave a comment below!
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