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Ten Top Tips For Public Speaking

February 9th, 2015

Speak-blogIt may not be your cup of tea, but if your writing career starts taking off, at some point you’ll have to get up in front of an audience and either read them a piece, or tell them about it. Now, way back in another life (before we had kids) I worked as an actor and, though I never got anywhere near even the suggestion of a shadow of Hollywood, I did pick up a few pointers on speaking in public. So, if and when you get the call, I hope they’ll be of use to you.

1. Know Your Audience. First of all, think about who you’re speaking to. Between a primary school class, an open mic in your local pub, and a literary festival crowd, there is a world of difference. If you manage to pitch things right, you’ll make life a lot easier for yourself.

2. Script It. If you’re a gregarious extrovert you may get away without this. But most of us aren’t, so the next thing to do is write a script. It doesn’t have to be word perfect. Just memorising a list of subject headings can sometimes be enough. But however you do it, take your time. You’ll want get everything in, and there’s always lots to think about.

3. Practise. Especially in the early days it’s good to rehearse talks like little theatre shows. You’ll be amazed how many things crop up – where to stand; where to put your hands; do you need props? And if you’re using any tech,’ does it work? You might even want to practise with somebody watching (my wife does this for me) which may seem forced, but really the only thing like having people watch you is … having people watch you.

4.What To Wear. I know most of us don’t want to be show-offs, but if you find yourself in front of a crowd thinking ‘I look like an idiot,’ it’s too late. So remember your audience, then choose something comfortable and appropriate.

5. Don’t Forget To Breathe. The voice is an amazing thing. People have devoted whole lives to studying it. But, in brief: when you get scared your body produces adrenalin. As a result  your heart speeds up, you may find you need the toilet RIGHT NOW, and you start breathing in fast little breaths. None of this is particularly good for public speaking, and the most effective way of dealing with it is not to reach for the sherry, but to do a vocal warm up; essentially, to get control of your breathing. There are lots of different exercises, but here’s a simple one: stand up straight with just a tiny little bend in your knees, then put your hands on the lower part of your tummy, and cough. You’ll feel the muscles in your abdomen contract. Now take a deep breath in, and let it out, and make those same muscles move with your breath – even if you have to gently push them, it’s alright. They are linked to your diaphragm, and if you’re breathing with your diaphragm your body thinks that everything’s OK. This is how you breathe when you are asleep, and you can’t get more relaxed than that.

(Most professional speakers do long vocal warm ups. If you want to learn more about them, check out this website: www.linklatervoice.com )

7. Take Your Mind Off It. Right, you’re ready. It’s the big day (or night). You’re at the venue in good time, you’ve met your host and, if you’re anything like me, you’re shaking in your boots. So you need to distract yourself. I usually take a book and, quite often, I don’t get to read it. But on those odd occasions, sat on my own in a corner, instead of simply fretting, I read. You could just as easily do puzzles, or play a game on your phone – whatever works for you. Of course, you’ll still worry, but not so much.

7. Look ‘Em In The Eye (?) The trouble with looking people in the eye is that they look back, which can be quite intimidating. So if you already know you’re not 100% confident, why give yourself an extra challenge? Instead, pick a spot on the wall just above the heads of the people on the back row, and look at that. I promise, no one will know. Everyone will think you’re speaking directly to them, and you’ll feel a lot better.

8. Don’t Dry Up. When you’re nervous your mouth dries up. So be sure there’s always a glass of water to hand. And if you’re in a pub, or at a dinner, don’t be tempted by beer or wine instead, they’ll dry you out even more. Another trick is to bite the end of your tongue, this automatically stimulates a release of saliva in your mouth (I don’t know idea why, but it does).

9. If You Don’t Feel It, Fake It. Gathering your courage to have a go is a great thrill, and getting an invitation to speak is really exciting. But sometimes you’ll find that, when it actually comes to it, you’re just not in the mood. Still, the show must go on, and in order that it does, it is okay for the speaker to pretend. Though it may feel otherwise, the audience can’t see inside you. If you pretend to be comfortable, they will believe you are comfortable; if you pretend to be confident, they will think you are confident.

10. Say Thank You. Wherever you’re speaking, and whoever you’re speaking to, those people all have at least a thousand other things they could be doing. And there are at least a thousand other people who would happily come and speak to them. So always say thank you and, if possible, remember to thank your host personally, by name

Oh, and don’t forget – Keep on writing!
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