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Saturday, September 08, 2012

The Terrified Public Speaker

A writer doing public speaking to market his books

Public Speaking.

Some writers love it. More probably hate it. No matter what poll you look at, the fear of public speaking always ranks in one of the top three slots. Many polls put the fear of public speaking in first place, followed in second place by the fear of dying. Yikes! That's a serious fear.

Many of us chose to write because we want to share our ideas, but we aren't comfortable speaking. But if you're writing for teens, doing school visits is pretty important. If you're writing for adults, speaking at men's and women's retreats will help you make sales.

What about those of us who stink at public speaking, though? What about those of us with tongues that turn to cement when people look at us, expecting us to say something intelligent?

I'm pretty new at the public speaking deal--I'm still terrified--but I've come up with three things that have helped me make a start.

Analyze Your Fear

Where did it come from?

Let's say the entire second-grade class laughed when you made a mistake and you developed a stutter after that. Knowing now that the children weren't knowledgeable enough to judge you or knowing now that they were just insecure kids trying to survive isn't necessarily going to cure you, but it will help you begin to see yourself more clearly.

We don't get over a lifelong fear just by admitting that it's irrational--how many very bright girls suffer from eating disorders? Fear of public speaking is the same kind of thing. We may admit with our heads that our perceptions of ourselves have been wrong all along. But that doesn't automatically change our perceptions.

So how do we change those distorted views? Some people think we can overcome our early conditioning by speaking affirmatively to ourselves. I don't know how helpful self-affirmation is.

What I've found helps me is when people I respect tell me I'm not as lame as I think I am. When they consistently tell me that, I begin to believe it after a while. In order to hear that, of course, you have be willing to let people hear you speak. You have to ...

Give Speeches and Keep Practicing

I joined Toastmasters International. This is a nonthreatening way to learn. Everyone is there for the same reason. They want to speak more effectively.

The Toastmasters manuals build one upon another, starting you off with easier speeches and adding skills to each successive speech. I have learned as much by watching and critiquing others as I have by giving my own speeches. This works just like a writers' critique group. And we, of all people, should understand that there are skills we can learn to help us be better speakers. How often have we laughed at silly people who think that since they know how to print, that means they can easily write a book? Well, let us not be silly people who think that since we know how to talk that means we can do public speaking without taking time to learn.

Another great way to learn is to...

Go to Speakers' Conferences

Last week I attended Christian Communicators Conference with Vonda Skelton and Carolyn Knefely. I learned about the business side of speaking, I learned about how to come up with a purpose statement, and I found a group of friends who will pray for me and support me as I start out. I came away with a five-minute demo video, and next month I'll have an hour-long follow-up telephone interview with one of the conference leaders so I can ask questions after I've put some of what I learned into effect.

Very helpful stuff and it makes me hope that I can get past being able to bear speaking and I might move on to actually enjoying it one day. I've been to a lot of conferences and I've heard a lot of competent speakers. But why settle for competent? There's a reason that Liz Curtis Higgs is constantly speaking and Brandilyn Collins emcees ACFW every year. They are not just competent--they're entertaining.

Now you tell you think writers need to be speakers? Do you like to speak? What have you done to improve your speaking? Help me out: Where else can I go or what else can I do, to learn to speak well?

photo credit: RubyGoes via photo pin cc

Sally Apokedak is the editor of the Best Books for Young Readers newsletter, the local liaison for SCBWI in Cobb County, and a new public speaker whose knees hardly knock anymore.


  1. I wholeheartedly agree with Sally's comments about the Christian Communicators Conference. Vonda and Carolyn not only validated speaking habits I already developed, but educated me with a number of new ideas I will apply in the future. And as important, I walked away with 29 new friends and a tremendous support system as I continue to develop my speaking ministry.

    1. Hey, Gloria, thanks for stopping by.

      Vonda and Carolyn were great, weren't they? The whole week was good. I could listen to Vonda forever. She's such a good speaker.

      I really enjoyed your presentation, too. I should have added that to my ways of learning to people who are better than you are. :)

  2. Sally, your thoughts about public speaking are right on target. None of us wants to be judged by those in our audiences, yet we are compelled to tell our story and stories of others in order to bless our listeners in some way. The Christian Communicators Conference successfully addressed many issues of public speaking in an affirmative and informative way. I'm so glad I got to meet you there. Your five-minute video presentation was awesome!

    1. Thanks, Carol! I loved your talk, too, and I'm also glad I met you.

  3. I loved the way the CCC organizers helped us take "baby steps" in our quest to become speakers. We introduced ourselves. We made an art board and explained it to the group. We told our stories.
    Desensitization. Sometimes repeated exposure takes the fear away. I'm counting on it!
    And yes, I agree. It's much easier to hide behind our computers and our written words.

  4. If everyone would only close their eyes while I'm up there speaking, I think it might help. But I also think I'm more afraid of the camera more than all those beady eyes staring back at me. What's a girl to do?
    Thank you for your encouragement from this blog and for reminding me that learning and then practicing is usually the answer to being good at anything, including speaking.

    Sally, I loved your talk and your easy way of speaking while up front. Thanks for being you!

  5. The CCC was an important step in my becoming a speaker. While I've done some speaking, I can't remember being so nervous. Perhaps it was the camera, plus the fact I hadn't gotten the proper rest I needed or had time to practice much. Still, the experience, meeting a group of like minded women who have become an important part of my life and wonderful support group, and the tools we were given, made this conference a must in my book.

    We can drown in our fears or overcome them. As writers, we do need to polish/learn speaking skills, to be better stewards of what God has given us. My first step is to secure a few domain names. Down the line, perhaps I'll join Toastmasters as you have Sally. :)

  6. @anon, thanks for commenting. I'm with you, hoping that if I keep on doing it, it will grow familiar and less frightening.

    @Kimberly, I take offense at the "beady eyes" remark. :) Thanks for stopping by and for your kind comments.

    @Danie Marie, I'm glad you're speaking and buying domain names. Keep pressing on!

  7. At a recent speaking engagement, a member of the audience approached me afterword and assured me that I did well. I had extensive notes, which I had studied numerous times, but when I got in front of the audience, I simply spoke from my heart. The woman who approached me gave me one good piece of advice: Don't worry about what your audience thinks. Only you know what you are speaking about, they don't know any of the facts. If you leave out some facts, they don't know that.

    1. Nancy, that's great advice. I flubbed my last speech, and I don't think I covered very well, but if I had just kept talking no one else would have known I flubbed it.

  8. I agree with your comments about the Christian Communicator's Conference with Vonda & Carolyn. I loved the blend of practical helps from business & taxes to etiquette at a head table as well as all the exercises that helped us to focus and create our vision and purpose statements. The chance to put everything we'd learned into practice with the 5-minute videoed talks was nerve-wracking, but very effective in getting us all to JUST DO IT! The group really bonded and we all learned so much from one another.


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