Sunday, June 20, 2010

Would you Rather Die than Public Speak?

At the Book Summit in Toronto last week, I was intrigued by the notion that writers do not necessarily make good presenters and readers. I take for granted that I am a writer who has been teaching for over 15 years and how this helps me in my writing.

My first college presentation of a psychology research project involving learning and touch was a nightmare! I conducted a study with kindergarten students. The not so easy part was reporting my findings in a 15-minute presentation. I was having an out of body experience, looking down on the blabbering idiot--me--standing before my peers!. I was hot, cold, sweaty, nervous and otherwise a wreck. What a relief it was to be sent back to my seat by a sympathetic professor!

If someone had told me back then that I would be standing before groups of students and then professionals of 50 or more today, I'd have told them they were delusional! Public speaking still ranks up there with the fear of death. And sometimes we'd rather just die than speak in public.

Before teaching, I found myself at Toastmasters, giving prepared speeches. I wasn't yet a teacher, but I had long known the value of being able to speak in public. Toastmasters was a wonderful way to get comfortable with public speaking. Then I took an acting course. This helped immensely with voice projection and body control.

My own classes and professional development training sessions are completely interactive. My students come in quaking with the fear of presenting, but by the end of the course, they don't want to stop talking in front of their peers. I believe this is the single most important activity we can do and practice to become confident in all areas of our lives.


It is important to understand the value of honing public speaking skills as writers. As a writer, you will have many opportunities to promote your work. These may include book launches and public readings. How will you survive these? It's one thing sitting in your comfort writing zone, but quite another facing your fans and public.

Think about your reading voice. Is it monotone? Do you make eye contact with your audience? If you are giving a talk, are you talking or reading? Do you engage with your audience? Anything you put between your audience and yourself will only distance you. Power point presentations are great, but avoid using them as crutches. Use slides to simply illustrate. They should not replace you. A stage with a podium and microphone are wonderful tools, but use your floorspace rather than hiding behind a podium. Get close to your audience by coming to the edge of the stage or by even sitting on it.

Always remember that people attend your event, presentation, reading or launch to see and hear YOU! Now, go practice by standing in front of your bathroom mirror and reading an excerpt from your latest book.

2 comments:

  1. As long as I have time to prepare, I'm okay with public speaking. I'll get nervous, of course. I'm not a pro or anything. But if asked to speak on the fly about something, I'll freeze, falter & fidget.

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  2. That makes sense, Vicki, as preparation is key. We can learn to speak on the fly though. It can be a two-edge sword--when we prepare we might become nervous because we have all that time to think about it.

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