mastering the art of public speakingPreparing for Author Talks and Workshops -
10 Tips on Mastering the Art of Public Speaking

by Marg McAlister


If you haven't done a lot of public speaking before, then it can be downright scary facing that sea of faces looking at you expectantly, waiting to hear what you have to say.

It doesn't matter whether you're standing in front of a dozen people at the local library, or a room full of family and friends at your first book launch... it's intimidating!

Try to keep in mind that all fledgling speakers have to take some risks before they feel confident getting up there with a microphone. And some people never get used to it. However, if set about building your skills steadily, you will develop a degree of excellence that will surprise you. There's nothing like practice, of course... so take every opportunity to speak in front of a group as soon as you sign a contract. Look ahead!

"Taking every opportunity" means taking small bites at public speaking before you launch into a full speech. For example, you can volunteer to introduce a speaker at a meeting at work, or at a local service club. The pressure is off YOU, because everyone is waiting to hear the guest speaker. Other things you can do include being the compere for a fund-raising fashion parade, presenting an award at a club presentation night, or making a toast at a family celebration (such as a family gathering to celebrate a milestone like a 50th wedding anniversary). Just a few such occasions will make a big difference to your self-confidence.

Here are ten habits of effective public speakers, with a special focus on the needs of authors. You'll probably find that you can already check off some of the items below. Take what you can use, and strive for excellence - whether you're facing a room filled with school children, or a hall filled to capacity with adoring fans following skyrocketing sales of your new best-seller! 

1. Be determined in your efforts to be an outstanding speaker. Strive for excellence through sharing your your experiences in a way that will means something to your listeners. Tailor your material for each audience.

2. Be patient in your goal to succeed. Persistence is a must. There is no such thing as overnight success in public speaking. Commit to some training to increase your confidence and technique, or talk to someone who has mastered the art of public speaking.

3. Show your passion for your topic. You can't expect your audience to become absorbed in your topic if you seem less than interested! Think of three or four different slants on your topic or your approach to writing the book (or books), and have basic speeches ready.

4. Be sincere and sensitive towards your audience. Share some of the mistakes you made along the way in your writing career. This way your audience perceives you as a real person and they can relate more readily to what you are saying.

5. Establish rapport with your audience as quickly as you can. Avoid offensive remarks or jokes. To grab their attention, prepare one or two funny stories about your book, career or characters; cite a quotation, or recount an anecdote. The first 30 seconds is very important. Use it wisely.

6. Be prepared! Think about what your audience will want to know, and try to predict the questions that might be asked. Do any necessary research, and keep some examples of how your plot or characters changed - or examples of your first draft versus your final draft. Organise the material for your speech logically.

7. Reinforce your key points with stories that keen writers and readers will relate to. Be a proficient storyteller in the flesh as well as on paper!

8. Communicate in ways that will help people learn. Studies have shown that 80% of people learn better by visual stimulation, rather than by listening alone. Don't underestimate the value of visual props and visual aids. Constantly seek other tools that can help you win 100% of your audience's attention.

9. Practice. Memorizing your speech is not enough - in fact, it can be counter-productive, because you might freeze if you forget a line! Work from a list of points, use props that will interest your listeners, and aim to be relaxed and casual. Try to practice in front of a mirror or with a friend. Feedback from either of these can help you improve the way you deliver your message.

10. Understand that you are doing something that is really valuable; it's another skill to master. If you can win people over from your talent with the printed word, you can win them over through your oral storytelling too! Not all people have the chance and the courage to speak in front of a crowd. It is a privilege that is coupled with your responsibility to entertain, educate and persuade your audience. Public speaking is an art that requires a certain level of skill, but it is a skill that can be mastered by most people. Start with small steps and build from there. 

© Marg McAlister


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