Speaking as an Author …

With LIBERATOR now out on the bookshelves, I’ve just started on the promo round. I’m doing school visits in the Orange-Bathurst area this week, then it’s down to Melbourne and Victoria for the next fortnight, then Central Coast NSW, then Canberra … I’m enjoying it right now, but I’ll be desperate for a nice long quiet period of solitary writing by the time it’s finished.

Still, I do enjoy it, and Rowena suggested I think up some tips on public speaking for authors. Not easy, because I’ve never consciously developed any techniques … I guess speaking to large numbers of people always came naturally to me – it’s talking with individuals that used to make me nervous! But here goes …

1. Mean what you say, think it as you say it. Okay, it’s not new to you, maybe you’ve even rehearsed it beforehand – but it has to be new again now with this audience. Spontaneity doesn’t have to be complete off-the-cuff originality, just meaning what you say. Really care about it, and you’ll stop caring about how people are looking at you!

2. Don’t use notes. If you start using notes, they become a prop until you’re afraid to do without them.

3. Look at particular people in your audience, address them but don’t stare at them. Speak personally to two or three people here, then two or three people there, then two or three people somewhere else.

4. Don’t hide behind a lectern or table. You speak with your whole body, so get used to being fully visible!

5. Use your arms, make gestures, but not constantly – don’t flutter! Try to vary your gestures, practice gestures that tie in with particular things you’ll be saying. It’s probably more important to practice what you’ll do with your arms than to practice what you’ll say with your voice.

6. Try not to ‘um’ and ‘er’. Once you start it’s very hard to get out of the habit. Most ‘ums’ and ‘ers’ come from rushing what you’re saying. Take your time, measure your words. There’s a way of slightly dragging out the end of one phrase while you get the next one ready in your mind.

7. Pregnant silences! When you can do this, you’ve really arrived. A deliberate pause and holding back, keeping your audience waiting for the end of the sentence, the conclusion to the idea. Start in a small way – just decide in advance a couple of places in a whole talk where you’ll make a pause – and force yourself to go through with it. Artificial confidence, but you can turn it into real confidence. Teach yourself not to be afraid of momentary silences, teach yourself that pauses are your friend and not your enemy – then, hey, you can do anything!

8. Be personal, include some real stories about yourself, some confessions. Best of all is if your audience feels you’re admitting things to them that you wouldn’t normally admit. (And owning up to your own nervousness can always be a good start …)

9. Have a simple outline of what you’re going to say in your head. Don’t try to marshal all the tiny details, just the basic areas to cover, half a dozen main steps or stages. If you miss out on some of the details when you do your talk, so what? That’s part of a real live talk. Perfection is for writing!

10. Never rely on the technology. I love creating PowerPoints mainly because it’s such fun setting up the images and backgrounds. (I blame Aileen, she turned me on to them.) But I always have big A3 laminated placards for the most important images. (OfficeWorks can do it from a file, not expensive.) So I can hold up the placards – and it’s always good to have something for show-and-tell – when the technology fails, which happens about twenty-five per cent of the time.

11. Don’t hyperventilate before you’re due to speak. One way to calm your breathing is to put a finger over one nostril and breathe slowly in and out through the other nostril.

12. If you’re liable to get panicky, ask your doctor for Beta-blockers (e.g Inderal). Take one an hour or half an hour before speaking, and they’ll prevent that adrenalin rush. They’re safe enough; many people take one a day for blood pressure conditions. Never give yourself courage by hitting the booze before you have to speak – you need all your faculties at full alertness. (And definitely not for school visits!)

Hah! That wasn’t so bad – I came up with more tips than I expected. I had to remember a long way back for some of them. I guess it’s like everything else – you start by mastering simple rules, and when you’ve absorbed you can afford to break them.

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2 Responses to Speaking as an Author …

  1. I love number 7 about pregnant silences, Richard.

  2. jenwillis says:

    Good advice — thanks for sharing. :)

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