Public Speaking for Newbies–Prep Work

Tonight, I’ll be speaking to a room full of folks at the East Texas Writers Guild in Tyler. Am I nervous? A bit. It’s only the second time in decades I’ve presented a speech before a group of colleagues. Am I excited? Definitely. Public speaking, while not for everyone, is a terrific way to strengthen your credibility and develop a fan base.

Standing in front of a group can turn the most confident person into a self-conscious, knobby-kneed teenager. But there are tricks to help you regain your confidence. Here are a few of mine:

First, speak about what you know, either through experience or extensive research. I italicized “know” because having a deep-seated knowledge gives you the credibility to talk to everyone from novices to experts, and prepares you for surprise questions. Never be afraid to say, “I’ll have to get back with you on that” (and do get back if you’ve said it), but having a deep-seated knowledge instead of just a familiarity means you’ll be saying those words less often.

For me, since I’m relatively new on the scene, I couch what I know in the form of offering my opinion or sharing from my personal experience. Tonight’s speech, “Don’t Make Your Editor Nuts,” is about things that bug me as an editor, both freelance and for Port Yonder Press. I don’t introduce myself as representing editors everywhere, although some of the things that bug me also bother others; I know, because I did my research.

Next, decide your topic and break it down into its components. If you’re speaking about something that has several components or is complicated, pick out a particular aspect or two to develop your speech around. For tonight, the things that make me nuts are divided into “big stuff,” “little stuff,” and “silly stuff,” and I have examples and anecdotes for each (with the names and other identifying factors changed).

Finally, determine the right outline method for you. As you write/type your outline, you’ll familiarize yourself even more with your topic and become at ease with it. Sketch out the major points you want to make and add whatever examples you want to use to emphasize those points. If this is your first speech, you may want to research which examples are best, which professionals to quote, etc. Be sure you’ve allowed yourself enough time to do this. (Actually, the best time to develop speeches is before you’ve even been asked to present one. If you know that public speaking is something you want to try, start now preparing talks on different topics.)

My outline is fairly sparse. Since I know what each subtitle stands for, I don’t type an intro to each section, even though I’ll present one, but I do bullet the examples I want to use with quick-reference cues, such as “Mystery Novel” or “YA Story.” I know what those cues mean, know the subtitle I’m following, and know the point I want to make, so I rarely need anything more than a quick reference.

Tip: When you type your outline, use a large bold font and triple space for quick reference. If necessary, make casual notes in a smaller font and highlight what you want to emphasize.

I don’t write out a speech. In college, I discovered that holding an actual paragraph-laden speech in my hands made me feel obligated to keep to it, to read or recite it word for word. I’d get rattled if I lost my place, and waste valuable time stuttering while I looked for my next cue, or I would read rather than make eye contact with my audience. Either result can be disastrous.

However, some people need the stability of having the words in front of them, either double or triple spaced. The advantage of this is knowing whether you’ll finish within the time allotted, particularly if you practice the delivery. And if you practice, you’ll less likely fall into the traps of stuttering and losing eye contact!

For me, queen of the ad lib, I have to know what is expendable. I’ll bracket things to exclude if time is running short. Since I’m the only one who knows what I intended to present, I’ll be the only one who knows what didn’t make it to the audience’s ears.

When you’re done, review what you’ve written a few times, study your weak spots, then put it down. If you worry, if you fret, you’re likely to choke. Do whatever you do to help you relax, then give your notes one more once-over before going on stage.

Deep breath. You can do it. I’ll show you a few more tips in Part Two.

About Linda W. Yezak

Author/Freelance Editor/Speaker (writing and editing topics).
This entry was posted in Promotion/Publicity/Marketing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Public Speaking for Newbies–Prep Work

  1. Great advice and very timely, Linda. I’m organizing a speaker’s bureau of children’s authors to do school visits. Our first meeting is this Wednesday! Looking forward to Part Two!


  2. K.M. Weiland says:

    Scary stuff! I’ve considered doing some public speaking as another route of book promotion, but, so far, I haven’t had the time (or the guts) to pursue it. I’m sure you and your bubbly personality will do fantabulous though!


    • Linda Yezak says:

      You’re right, Katie. Instead of speaking to a handful in a cozy room, it’s far less daunting to put your lessons on camera and post them for hundreds to see. — Not! What you do terrifies me!!! 😮


  3. Lynne Wells Walding says:

    Great points, Linda. Looking forward to part 2.


  4. Very interesting. I took public speaking in school, did very well, then forgot all about it afterward. Great review of everything I have managed to forget. Thanks! I bet you did very well. I would like to have attended. Sounds very interesting, besides getting the chance to meet you face to face.


  5. Your presentation was GREAT!!!!!! Oh, did you say something about the little baseball bat over the dot. I tell you what makes me nuts is figgerin’ out where to put all those dots and dashes. Seriously, your presentation was dead on and with a seamless delivery. I read your “marketing” post on the other blog and that would make a good speech to any gathering of people that was maketing a product or service. We were fortunate that you came to visit.
    You are invited to drop by “Differences with the Same Likeness” but beware as an editor, you might “go nuts”,,, Thanks again, Glenn


    • Linda Yezak says:

      Glenn, it was a delight meeting you! I’m so glad everyone enjoyed the speech. Great idea on the marketing speech. I never would’ve thought of it.


  6. Patty Wysong says:

    I like your idea to bracket the expendable things. Thanks. Before I pitched two workshops to the small conference organizer, I had decent outlines done so I knew where I was heading and how to pitch them. It helped tremendously in getting the sessions as well as in preparing months later.

    Thanks for this series, Linda. I didn’t read it in order, but it’s had great pointers and a good refresher for me.


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