Many authors are introverts. It’s hardly a surprise given the solitary nature of writing. Yet, chances are that at some point in your writing career you will be asked to speak and while a bit of anxiety prior to a speech is normal, it shouldn’t hold you back from connecting with your readers. It’s not just the introverts that suffer here, an estimated 70% of the general population has an intense fear of public speaking. So what is it about standing in front of a room full of others that makes us so nervous? And how can you ensure that it doesn’t stop you from accepting invitations to speak at writer’s festivals or book signings? We look at what you can do to reduce your nerves and spread the word about your book.
Slow it Down
One of the most common mistakes of nervous public speakers is to rush through their speech. In an attempt to get it over and done with you are unwittingly putting your audience on edge and detracting from your message. The secret to slowing down: Pause.
When you first stand in front of the room take a moment to relax your breathing and look around. Give yourself a second of stillness before you begin. Take a few deep breaths, remind yourself you can do this then start your speech. It may help to minimize your caffeine intake beforehand (difficult, I know!) and arrive with plenty of time to prepare. Aim to start relaxed and remind yourself to pause regularly. I used to have a drama teacher who would yell out ‘pause, pause, pause’ at regular intervals and I still find myself hearing her words when it comes to public speaking. Practice and time your speech aiming to slow it down more each time.
Structure your Speech
A rambling, pointless speech is difficult to listen to and hard to get through if you are feeling flustered. Grab your readers’ attention and give them a sense of progression by setting out your speech with a basic introduction, body and conclusion. Like a good story, your speech should begin with a strong opening hook. Identify what your audience has to gain from listening. Follow this with supporting evidence presented in a logical sequence. Talk to the audience at their level and keep your speech moving forward. Finally, wrap it up with a powerful conclusion. It’s all about saying what you are going to say, saying it and then saying what you said. Aim to finish with at least one take-home point. Struggling to conclude your speech effectively? Sometimes a quote works just as well.
Prepare, prepare, prepare. Write, edit and practice your speech ahead of time. Focus on delivering your introduction. Knowing the first few lines of your speech will help you to relax when you first stand in front of the room. Practice your speech as you are going to deliver it on the day, with the equipment you will be using. If you are appearing on a panel have a friend grill you on possible questions. This can also be a good way to practice your answers for a question and answer session. Research the venue. Visit ahead of time if possible and know how much time you need to arrive and what equipment you need to bring with you. Aim to get to the venue with time to spare so you can set up your prompts and relax before your speech. Arriving prepared will enable you to breathe easy knowing that you have done everything possible to set yourself up for success.
Discovering your own unique voice and style of presenting can take time. Do what works for you and don’t feel pressured into copying anyone else’s style. Experiment with prompt cards, slides or talking off the cuff. Do you prefer full pages of highlighted notes or taking your points directly from PowerPoint slides? Give your talk in the way that feels the most comfortable and natural for you.
Often we are paralyzed by everything that we imagine could go wrong. Turn this around by visualizing success. Just as elite athletes use visualization to improve their performance, you can trick your fears by imagining yourself giving a flawless presentation. Envision the full sequence of events: arriving at the venue, setting up, calmly giving your presentation and answering reader questions. Deep breathing exercises and positive affirmations can also help you get in the right frame of mind before your speech.
Think about Body Language
Stand naturally. Good posture will convey a sense of confidence to your audience. Work out what you are going to do with your hands while you are speaking. What feels the most natural? What gestures do you make when talking with friends normally? Sometimes it can help to act relaxed before you feel relaxed.
Keep Your Readers in Mind
Public speaking is not about you. It’s about your readers. Keep your nerves in check by concentrating on your message rather than your fears. This is about telling your story, communicating your author brand and showing your book off to the world.
Public speaking is a battle of confidence. Fortunately, it’s a battle that you can go into well-prepared. Plan, practice, think positively and keep the focus on your readers to give yourself every chance of success.