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.