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The Writer as Speaker: Overcoming the Fear
by Kathryn Lay

All my life I’ve suffered from shyness. Perhaps my desire for writing partly came from this malady. Whenever I wanted to express myself, even to tell my parents what they meant to me, I wrote it down. I’d never felt comfortable formulating my words into speech as someone watched me.

Yet, the more success I’ve had in writing, the more I’ve been asked to speak in public. Whether to children at schools or libraries, or other writers at meetings or conferences, I struggle with mind-numbing terror up to that moment. And yet, each time I’ve been amazed at the response from my audience, and amazed at my ability to share the information, and even elicit laughs and more questions than I have time to answer.

As writers-turned-speakers, how do we conquer that fear and learn to enjoy the opportunity to share our expertise and knowledge to others? How do we stand before an audience of children or adults without turning into a quivering mass of jelly?

MAKE YOUR SPEECH NOTES CLEAR. Don’t write down everything you want to say, only the outline. By writing down every bit of your speech, you’ll be tempted to read it and therefore drone on. And with so much text, you may lose your point and spend moments looking for your place, leaving a deadly silence as everyone watches you flip through pages of paper.

Instead, I write my main points on index cards in large lettering, then add the sub points that I hope to hit. Know your topic well. After all, you’ve been asked to speak so you must be the ‘expert’ on the topic for that program.

PREPARE ON THE WAY. Before you arrive at your speaking engagement, practice speaking loudly and clearly in your car or at home. You don’t have to give your actual speech, if you stumble during this last minute practice, it may make you afraid. Recite a poem or have a pretend dialogue, but speak loudly without yelling and clearly without exaggerating.

CONQUER STAGE FRIGHT. Ultimately, our true fear is speaking in front of others. It’s that moment of standing before a crowd, in front of a microphone, and wondering how to begin. Find a relaxing technique before you begin your talk. Perhaps you need to sit for a few moments in your car, taking slow breaths, inhaling slowly and counting as you exhale. Take one last look at your notes, concentrating on your beginning. The rest will come; it’s those beginning moments that stop you cold.

BECOME A FRIEND. When you begin your talk, smile at your audience. Force yourself to make eye contact. Look for a friendly face, someone you know or someone who is smiling back and focus on them. Although you may want to start your focus this way, avoid the temptation to talk only to one person. You are not addressing a hostile audience. Remember, they are there because they WANT to hear what you have to say.

BRING VISUAL AIDS. When I talk about my marketing techniques, I bring my notebooks of guidelines and the processes I use to keep track of markets and manuscripts that are out. When talking about specific genres of writing, I bring books and magazines that represent that genre. It not only gives my audience a physical explanation of what I’m saying, but reminds me of what I want to talk about and keeps me from gripping the podium in fear. I am more relaxed by picking up these items to show.

HAND OUT NOTES AFTER YOUR TALK, NOT BEFORE. By giving handouts and notes to your audience before you talk, you give them the go ahead to noisily flip through the papers rather than listen to what you’re saying. If you have a book to sell or want to solicit further speaking engagements, put the information on your handouts, including your contact information, both phone and email.

INFORMATION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN PRESENTATION. You don’t want to bore your audience. That is why you come prepared. But not everyone is a born speaker, not everyone has a charismatic personality or keeps the audience in stitches. At the first large writer’s conference where I spoke, I was one of a dozen speakers throughout the weekend in small sessions. My room was packed

After my session, I was surprised at how many people stopped me to tell me how informative and helpful my talk had been. I had worked hard on preparing to give them as much information as possible in my 45 minutes.

You can learn to enjoy speaking about your writing. If you have books to sell or classes to offer, this is an excellent way to promote yourself. After one speech, I told everyone that I had copies of my self-published booklet on being an organized writer. Within a few minutes, all copies sold and I had orders for 10 more.

Financial benefits include payment for your talk, and sometimes a free membership to the group that has had you come and speak. There may be an editor in the audience or someone who is in need of a writer. There may be librarians and bookstore workers attending who will be anxious to invite you to speak at their school, library, or store. One speaking engagement often leads to another.

You can conquer your fear of speaking with planning and preparation. Take that first step and say yes when you are asked to talk about your writing. You may find that you truly enjoy it. And so will your audience.

© Copyright 2002, Kathryn Lay

Kathryn Lay is the author of 26 books for children, over 2000 articles, essays and stories for children and adults and the book from AWOC.COM Publishing, The Organized Writer is a Selling Writer. Check out her website at www.kathrynlay.com and email through rlay15@aol.com

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