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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Public Speaking

One of the best ways to get word out about your writing is to get gigs as a public speaker. I know that you’re a writer and, most likely an introvert, but it is supremely do-able. I know because in just a few weeks I’ll be speaking at the Missouri Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Fall Conference. I’ve come a long way since my first time speaking.

The first time was at the local historical society. I kept a death grip on the podium through my entire talk. I only let go with one hand to turn the pages of my printed speech. I needed that grip to keep myself upright. I was that terrified.

That’s not the case anymore. Now I can actually roam around the stage. Of course, that’s how I kicked my water bottle into the audience but that’s a story for another day. Here are 5 tips to help you get beyond your fears about public speaking.

  1. Say yes. You’re not going to get over this by not doing it. If someone asks you to speak, say yes. Practice may not make perfect but it will help you get better one stutter or misstep at a time. Really. No one suffered because of the water bottle incident.
  2. Get the Details. What are you speaking about? How much time do you have? I’m pointing this out for a reason. You don’t want to prepare a 20 minute talk, only to find out you have an hour and the reverse is just as panic inducing.
  3. Prep It. This next step varies a bit person to person but you need to get your talk ready to go. For some people, this means writing it out word for word. I don’t do this anymore because I don’t want to read my talk. I write an outline. You can try both as you …
  4. Practice. Actually give your talk several times. If you can get your children or spouse to listen, that’s great. I’ve been known to explain research to the cat and oral history interviews to the empty dining room. This step helps you see how long your talk is (do you need to add or cut) and also make sure it flows.
  5. Take Your Time. Last but not least, when you get up to give your talk, take your time. I consciously force myself to speak slowly. Speaking from an outline helps me do this since I can’t just quickly read word-for-word. I look down. Read a line. Take a breath. Then I look back up and speak some more.

Public speaking really is doable even for an introvert. The effort will be well worth it when, afterwards, someone compliments you. “You’re a natural. I could never be that relaxed.” It’s up to you to decide whether or not you tell them about the death grip on the podium.


Sue is the instructor for our course, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults.  The next session begins on September 7, 2015.

1 comment:

  1. Sue--Because I teach full-time, I do lots of public speaking. It's something that's easy for me... but it took years for me to be comfortable with it.

    Good luck with your future speaking engagements. (I guess your cat never heckles you when you rehearse in front of them?)


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