Writing a book is an introverted activity: it’s you and your computer and your thoughts. Once you’ve written the book, however, it’s time to tell people about it. And part of that may involve becoming a bit more extroverted, whether you like it or not. Sooner or later you’ll have to speak in public about your book, whether it’s a talk in front of a live audience, being interviewed on a podcast or a member of the media.
Yvonne Caputo (left), author of Flying With Dad and the forthcoming Dying With Dad, and Marjorie Aunos (right), author of the forthcoming Mom on Wheels are both experienced public speakers as well as authors.
In this episode of The Empowered Author Podcast they share their tips on how to prepare for public speaking and how to deal with the nerves. Listen to the episode here, and please head over to your favourite podcasting platform to subscribe, rate and review!
Speaking in front of an audience
Most people will agree that public speaking—in front of a live audience—is nerve wracking: so many pairs of eyes on you and it can feel like they can hear your heart racing. The good news is that you’re in control of the narrative. You decide what you’ll talk about and how you’re going to say what you need to say. This makes it easier to prepare. And preparation is key.
So how do you prepare for public speaking when it is a live audience?
Prepare your speech.
You can approach this in the same way a teacher prepares a lesson plan: think about your goal, the materials you need, your sources. This will help you come up with an outline of what you want to say.
Then, think about a story—a memory or a vivid image—that will have the impact you’re after. You want to evoke certain emotions in your audience, so you need to find the story that will best do that: the one that will resonate with them. Using all five senses plus emotion is a good way to get your audience to connect with your words. Humour is a great strategy in most circumstances too: it breaks the ice and helps everyone to relax.
Practise your speech.
Practising your speech will help you iron out the little details. Time yourself to see whether you need to edit your speech and/or adapt your pacing. It’s also a good idea to film yourself and see how you can improve your posture. Practise your speech over and over and over again until you have it memorized. This means you can look at your audience as you speak instead of looking down at your notes.
And then look for other opportunities to get up in front of an audience—drama or stand-up comedy classes, for instance—so you can become more comfortable with the idea. Practice is one of the most effective ways to prepare for public speaking.
Prepare notes and other materials.
Very few public speakers can successfully speak off the cuff. Even when they look like they’re speaking spontaneously, it’s likely that they’re relying on a teleprompter.
You can either print out your bulleted talking points or make little cue cards. Using these rather than printing out the speech in full removes the temptation to keep your head down (not great for audience engagement) and simply read everything word for word.
Before the speech, you also need to prepare mentally. Having a quick glass of wine or a shot may seem like a good idea but there’s the risk that it will take a bit too much of the edge off. One of my drama coaches used to admonish that drinking before a performance—any kind of performance and a speech is a performance—would ensure you would be the ONLY one amused. Instead, breathing exercises or meditation will help you to calm those nerves, slow down, and ground yourself. Positive self-talk is also important: remind yourself that you’ve got this. After all, you’re the best person to tell your story, aren’t you?
Connect with someone in the audience.
This could be someone who’s smiling. It could be a loved one who came to support you. Or you could pretend that the person is your best friend or partner and that you’re talking to them rather than to an auditorium full of people.
One strategy some public speakers use to make the audience seem less intimidating, according to Yvonne Caputo, is to imagine them naked. Another is to focus on a spot just above their eyes rather than making direct eye contact: this will make it seem like you’re looking at them directly without the risk of panicking because you think they can see right into your soul.
Speaking in an interview
During an interview, whether it’s a podcast or a traditional media interview, you have less control over the narrative: no matter how much you prepare beforehand, the interviewer may ask questions you didn’t anticipate. So how do you prepare for public speaking when it is a media interview? You can use some of the same techniques as for speaking in front of an audience: meditation or deep breathing to ground yourself, focusing on a spot just above the interviewers eye’s, and so on. In addition:
Think about your key messages.
Knowing your “why” will help you with this: that is what drives the main message you want to convey. If you’re doing the interview virtually, it helps to have little sticky notes with your top three key messages around your computer screen to remind you of what you’d like to cover.
Remember that you don’t have to directly answer any question put to you: you always have the option of pivoting to one of your key messages, by saying something like, “That’s a great question, and what it really reminds me of is [insert key message].” If you’ve ever been through media training, you’ll recognize this as an important tactic which helps you stay in control of the narrative as much as possible.
Don’t be afraid of silence.
After each question, take a moment to think about what the interviewer is really looking for and what story you have that will give them that. This gives you a chance to formulate a clear answer rather than rambling on and on and speaking in colons and ellipses. Taking a sip of water before you answer will not only help a dry mouth but will allow you to take that pause without it being too noticeable.
This goes for any pubic-speaking situation, whether you’re up on stage and behind a podium or whether you’re being interviewed over Skype. If the audience believes you as a speaker, they will also believe in you as an author.
What other tips do you have to prepare for public speaking? We’d love to hear from you.