10 simple ways writers can instantly improve their public speaking skills – Betsy Graziani Fasbinder

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By Betsy Graziani Fasbinder

Writers are sometimes among the most hesitant of those I coach in public speaking. If this is you, my best information is this: sometimes the best, and most important changes that you can make to improve your skills are the simplest ones. When you recall your favorite author events, I’ll bet they had many of these 10 simple elements.♥

1. Think of your talk as a conversation, not a performance.

If you think of your talk as a friendly conversation, it’ll come off as more authentic and you’ll seem more accessible. Interact with your eyes, with your face, with rhetorical questions or audience involvement just as you would with a group of friends around the table. If the situation allows, include others in the discussion to share their ideas and their questions. The wisdom is in the room, and the voices of others can add a new dimension to your talk. The more you engage others, the more they’ll connect to you and your talk.

2. Speak to one person at a time, not the whole crowd at once.

This is an eye contact technique. No matter what the size of the group you’re addressing in an in-person presentation, rather than having your eyes scanning the group or darting quickly between a few people break the audience down to size. Look at one person at a time, each for about 3-5 seconds, enough time to complete a sentence or a short thought. Then move your eyes around the room in a random pattern. Leave no orphans. Sometimes we feel more at ease fixing our eyes on a couple of people who are wearing smiles. Some people wear a serious expression when they’re listening. Others look sleepy. Don’t take it personally. Connect with everyone.

Whether you’re talking to five or 500 people, you can break your talk into a series of one-on-one encounters. It’s more natural, more connected and more intimate this way. If you try to talk to everyone at once, you’re really connecting to no one.

3. Be a storyteller.

In their eagerness to sell books or share information, too many authors become “data dumpers” or “hucksters”. They either flood their audience with facts and information or their only message is “buy my book.”

Nobody likes to be data-dumped or “sold” anything. Instead, share stories: how you got interested in your subject, what your writing process is like or what you learned along the way. By enticing people with stories, you establish yourself as a storyteller and that’s what will interest people in buying your book.

4. “Flawed and natural” is better than “perfect and detached”.

From the desire to deliver a “perfect” talk, lots of writers compose a script and either memorize or read it. This is fine for a commencement address, but for an intimate bookstore talk or a pitch to an agent, you want to share your best natural self with your audience. Even if you flub a bit, your natural self is way better than an aloof version of you. Meryl Streep can make a script sound like a conversation, but most of us lack that gift. You’re having a conversation, not performing a play.

5. Pack your passion and your sense of humor.

Sometimes out of nervousness, and sometimes out of a desire to be taken seriously, authors address groups in an aloof, professorial way. An author talk is not graduate school. (Besides, weren’t your favorite professors lively and passionate?)

If you spent months, years or even decades researching and writing your book, you have some passion for the topic. Sharing that passion is what gets people excited about your subject, you and your book.

And don’t forget your sense of humor! I’m not suggesting that you yuck it up if you’ve written about world famine, of course. But finding light-hearted moments, touching stories and a natural sense of levity can help connect you to your audience. Be serious when you’re talking about the serious aspects of your talk, but, just like in writing, your talks should have layers and pacing, with light moments to offset the darker ones.

6. True connection is key: let your heart show.

When it comes to book events, the reason I go (and what often compels me to buy a book) is the opportunity to get to know the story behind the story and the person behind the pages. Share background details not in the book: Does your dog hang out with you in your writing room every day? Did your ex tell you not to write about him? Did your mom cry when she saw your book for the first time?

Share tidbits. Share your heart. Connection is key and people love being in on behind-the-book secrets.

7. Say less and get remembered more.

A lot of writers chatter when they’re speaking publicly. They’re often trying to jam way too much information into the time they’ve been given.

I always suggest preparing content for only about two-thirds of the time you’re given, and practice it aloud with a stopwatch to get an accurate assessment of how long your talk will take. It’s almost always longer than you think. The content will expand a bit with delivery, and you want to leave room for audience comments and questions.

It’s better to say fewer things and build a connection to listeners than say everything you have in your head and have people looking for the door. Don’t overpack your content, and edit your talk down to a svelte, low-fat version of what you want to say.

8. Move when you’re moving. Stand still when you’re standing still.

People with lots of energy (or extra nerves) can feel as though they’re standing still, when really they’re fidgeting, fussing with their clothing, rocking, pacing or generally wiggling about in a distracting way. Other people feel compelled to move, but they walk in slo-mo way that can only be described as “Frankensteinian,” walking like zombies and barely moving their hands or facial muscles.

If you’re standing still in front of a group, relax your arms, plant your feet, settle yourself and breathe. This gives you the look of composure. If you choose to walk, then walk like you’re going somewhere with intention. Move at a natural walking pace in the direction of your toes. Gestures should be bigger than you think, but they should not be continuous. Make an intentional gesture, and then let your arms relax between gestures. The operative word here is “intention.” Move intentionally. Stand still intentionally.

9. Have a plan, but remain flexible and “in the moment”.

I always suggest preparing and practicing content for any talk an author will give and I help those whom I coach to create a simple, one-page map of their talk to help keep them on course. But sometimes circumstances change. Perhaps a tragic national event occurred just before your talk or the local sports team just won the championship. Maybe an audience member shared a moving reaction to your talk or your book. Or something silly happens, like a baby has the giggles in the audience. How can you ignore that?

Your talk preparation should include some flexibility to allow for the unexpected, both good and bad. Be flexible. Be authentic. Be present. It’s your party. The audience members are your guests. Enjoy them.

10. Have some fun and feel the gratitude.

If public speaking has always been nerve-wracking for you, perhaps it’s because you’re just taking it far too seriously. Sure, whenever we talk about subjects that matter to us, or a book we’ve poured our lives into creating, the stakes are high when we talk about it. It’s useful to remember what a privilege it is that other people are giving us their time and their attention. They came to listen to YOU. Wow. That’s a lot in this busy world.

To honor and appreciate your listeners for their time and for their attention, I recommend embracing the experience. Breathe it in. Enjoy the people who’ve been so generous as to show up. If you’re having a bit of fun, so will your listeners. And don’t we all need a little more of that?

Shifting your thinking about public speaking can go a long way toward making in-person events, media interviews and even casual conversations not only tolerable, but also powerful. The ten tips above are simple shifts of your point of view, with just a touch of technique that will instantly transform the way you approach public speaking. It will help you show up as your most natural self for every talk.

Betsy Graziani Fasbinder is an award-winning novelist and memoirist as well as a public speaking coach. She now shares her expertise in coaching public speaking in her new book, From Page to Stage: Inspiration, Tools, and Public Speaking Tips for Writers.


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