Public Speaking for Writers (Guest Post: Sally Jenkins)

Love it or loathe it (and it’s often listed as people’s ‘worst fear’), public speaking is part and parcel of a career as a writer these days.

Whether it’s reading your work aloud at a writers’ group or literary festival, teaching creative writing to a class or getting paid as an after-dinner speaker (say for the WI, which I’ve done a few times), standing up in front of an audience and speaking is what we’re expected to do.

If you have to ‘present’ as part of your day job (or if you’re an actor!), then it might be second-nature to you but for those who’ve had no training in or experience of public speaking, the mere thought of it can be terrifying.

If I’m making you nervous, do not fret: help is at hand. My writing buddy, Sally, very wisely realised a few years ago that she was going to be expected to promote the novels that she was working so hard to write. She also recognised that, like many of us, public speaking wasn’t something that would come naturally to her, so she took the brave step of joining a speakers’ club to improve her skills and confidence (it’s worked, I’ve seen her in action!)

She’s put all she’s learned into a handy new book: Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners. And I’m welcoming her to the blog today to give us some handy tips on public speaking. (And if you’re on Twitter – and are quick – she’s got a giveaway of the book. You just have to follow her on Twitter and RT the tweet! Ends 4/5/2019). Over to you, Sally!

Learn to Speak in Public! – Sally Jenkins

* Ever felt tongue-tied when asked what your book is about?
* Hate reading your work aloud in front of a group?
* Scared to death of a one-to-one agent pitching session?
* Longing to give an author talk at the local library but jangling nerves are holding you back?

If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of the above, learning to speak in public is for you. The ability to talk in front of a group improves confidence across all aspects of life. Workshops, agents and writing groups may still generate butterflies but they will no longer be bogeymen! Plus, complaining in shops, talking to strangers and speaking up in meetings will all become easier.

A few tips to get you started on your public speaking journey:

• Organise the points you want to make in groups of three. Trios make it easier for the speaker to remember what he wants to say and, also, for the audience to remember what has been said.
• Focus on the needs of the audience not on how self-conscious, nervous or shaky you feel. What can you tell your listeners that will capture their interest and inform or entertain them?
• Don’t learn your speech off by heart. If you do, and lose your place, you’ll be completely flummoxed. Instead have a few bullet-pointed notes and be able to talk freely around each point.
• Step into ‘performer mode’ when you stand to speak. This is like an actor stepping into another persona. Pretend to be a brighter, shinier version of you.
• Make lots of eye contact. This means glancing around at everyone in the room to make sure the whole audience feels included in what you are saying.
• Join a Speakers or Toastmasters Club. These organisations offer a safe environment in which to practise speaking and receive constructive feedback.

Five years ago, I joined a speakers’ club and took every opportunity to learn and speak. In 2018 I represented the Midlands in the Association of Speakers Clubs‘ national speech competition.

The cumulative effect of what I’ve learned and practised over the past few years means that I now face the whole of my life more confidently. I would still quake at the knees if asked to pitch to an agent or face an unknown group, but I have the tools to minimise my own fear and focus on delivering what the agent or group needs to know.

In Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners I have pulled together everything I’ve learned.

It includes chapters on speech construction, special occasion speaking, preparing the voice, reading aloud and managing speaking engagements. I hope the book will inspire you to make your point in meetings, introduce yourself confidently at writing workshops and, maybe, even to talk about your work to a group of readers.

‘Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners’ is available on Kindle and in paperback format.

Sally Jenkins is an author and speaker. Follow her on Twitter @sallyjenkinsuk or on Facebook.

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3 Responses to Public Speaking for Writers (Guest Post: Sally Jenkins)

  1. Thanks very much for having me, Helen!

  2. Patsy says:

    The first time I read any of my work in public I was horribly nervous the whole time, even though I was used to speaking to groups and often enjoyed it. It’s very different when it’s our work, or even ourselves which is the subject.

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