The Terrified Public Speaker

A writer doing public speaking to market his books

Public Speaking.

Some writers love it. More probably hate it. No matter what poll you look at, the fear of public speaking always ranks in one of the top three slots. Many polls put the fear of public speaking in first place, followed in second place by the fear of dying. Yikes! That’s a serious fear.

Many of us chose to write because we want to share our ideas, but we aren’t comfortable speaking. But if you’re writing for teens, doing school visits is pretty important. If you’re writing for adults, speaking at men’s and women’s retreats will help you make sales.

What about those of us who stink at public speaking, though? What about those of us with tongues that turn to cement when people look at us, expecting us to say something intelligent?

I’m pretty new at the public speaking deal–I’m still terrified–but I’ve come up with three things that have helped me make a start.

Analyze Your Fear

Where did it come from?

Let’s say the entire second-grade class laughed when you made a mistake and you developed a stutter after that. Knowing now that the children weren’t knowledgeable enough to judge you or knowing now that they were just insecure kids trying to survive isn’t necessarily going to cure you, but it will help you begin to see yourself more clearly.

We don’t get over a lifelong fear just by admitting that it’s irrational–how many very bright girls suffer from eating disorders? Fear of public speaking is the same kind of thing. We may admit with our heads that our perceptions of ourselves have been wrong all along. But that doesn’t automatically change our perceptions.

So how do we change those distorted views? Some people think we can overcome our early conditioning by speaking affirmatively to ourselves. I don’t know how helpful self-affirmation is.

What I’ve found helps me is when people I respect tell me I’m not as lame as I think I am. When they consistently tell me that, I begin to believe it after a while. In order to hear that, of course, you have be willing to let people hear you speak. You have to …

Give Speeches and Keep Practicing

I joined Toastmasters International. This is a nonthreatening way to learn. Everyone is there for the same reason. They want to speak more effectively.

The Toastmasters manuals build one upon another, starting you off with easier speeches and adding skills to each successive speech. I have learned as much by watching and critiquing others as I have by giving my own speeches. This works just like a writers’ critique group. And we, of all people, should understand that there are skills we can learn to help us be better speakers. How often have we laughed at silly people who think that since they know how to print, that means they can easily write a book? Well, let us not be silly people who think that since we know how to talk that means we can do public speaking without taking time to learn.

Another great way to learn is to…

Go to Speakers’ Conferences

Last week I attended Christian Communicators Conference with Vonda Skelton and Carolyn Knefely. I learned about the business side of speaking, I learned about how to come up with a purpose statement, and I found a group of friends who will pray for me and support me as I start out. I came away with a five-minute demo video, and next month I’ll have an hour-long follow-up telephone interview with one of the conference leaders so I can ask questions after I’ve put some of what I learned into effect.

Very helpful stuff and it makes me hope that I can get past being able to bear speaking and I might move on to actually enjoying it one day. I’ve been to a lot of conferences and I’ve heard a lot of competent speakers. But why settle for competent? There’s a reason that Liz Curtis Higgs is constantly speaking and Brandilyn Collins emcees ACFW every year. They are not just competent–they’re entertaining.

Now you tell me…do you think writers need to be speakers? Do you like to speak? What have you done to improve your speaking? Help me out: Where else can I go or what else can I do, to learn to speak well?

photo credit: RubyGoes via photo pin cc
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Sally Apokedak is the editor of the Best Books for Young Readers newsletter, the local liaison for SCBWI in Cobb County, and a new public speaker whose knees hardly knock anymore.