Speaking Tips for Writers

Given the writer of this blog makes a living from speaking, it can be assumed he will know something about the doing of it. Jon Doust is also a writer and most writers have to speak. In contributions to this page, Jon will assume that the reader, the writer, will know all there is to know about his or her writing and will concentrate on the speaking, the preparing, the delivering, and the easing of  nerves. 

The Start
First, you have to know what it is you will talk about.

You may have noticed that many writers seem to ignore the advertised topic and head straight to  their book, the one they are currently selling. It is the view of this writer that addressing the topic is a sensible and sound practise, in particular if your are on more than one panel at a festival. Readers don’t like following an author only to discover him or her delivering the same words over and over. 
Once you know the topic for discussion,  you then have to decide what to say about it.
If you have a short speech before questions, make notes or write a speech.

Write your speech with words that come easy to you, and as close as possible to your natural flow. 
If writing notes on cue cards, make the notes large and easy to read.
It’s a good idea not to use words you can’t pronounce.
Try hard not to use double negatives.
A talk should ideally have a logical beginning, middle, and end, each following the next in an easy to follow sequence and pace so the folk in front of you are encouraged to stay with you, understand you and be enthused by you.
Once you build confidence, go back to your original set of rules and break as many as you can.

Before we go any further, you might find this interesting:
An American University (UCLA) research into communications showed that an audience is influenced by a speaker in the following percentages: 
–     Spoken Words             7 %
–     Voice                          38 %
–     Body Language       55 %

That is a whopping 93% for presence!
And a sad and dismal 7% for content.
For anyone wanting to make a speech, these are vital stats.
What is also known is that you can enhance the 7% factor if you work hard on the 93%.

Why Prepare?
Some folk might ask: What is the point of exercising your body and your voice before a talk? Well, fact is, most people spend all their time on the content of a talk, and none on the preparation of the person – easing nerves, gaining confidence and vocal strength and maintaining or even building presence. And presence counts. It is presence that gives a talk or speech its integrity, power and influence.
Most professional actors, singers, speakers, radio folk this writer knows go through a greater or lesser range of physical and vocal exercises to prepare themselves for presentations and performances, in order to increase the power of their voices, and their physicality. Those that don’t are easy to pick. 

Body Language
Body language can not only help in the delivery of a talk – painting the picture, enhancing passion and meaning, making it more interesting and keeping an audience’s attention – it can also help in the release of nervous tension. And this is work that is best begun in preparation, through exercises.

If you show your nerves through your fingers, try some finger exercises.

The most influential body language is honest language, not the contrived, the contained, the acted, the learnt. And it has a lot to do with confidence. Once we have confidence, then we can build, enhance and temper.

General tips:
Get plenty of good sleep the night before
Stay friends with those around you – you don’t need emotional tension before the talk
Eat well in advance of a talk and don’t over eat if using the voice over a long period (a day). When talking with a full stomach energy is expended to dismantle the food. 
If talking for a long period, eat sensibly – low carbohydrates, fruit (bananas etc)
If the gig is short and you must eat before, eat a banana. If you don’t like bananas, try a fig.
Drink plenty of water.

Exercises before the gig
Start with normal warm-up exercises for a run, or a game – arms swinging etc – they all help.

There are major benefits to these exercises – they warm up your vocal cords and your speaking apparatus – tongue, lips, cheeks – they concentrate your breathing, and they distract you from any nervousness.

Hands on head .. elbows out … breath in – elbows in … breath out-elbows out.
Part your ribs by leaning to the right and the left (this stretches your rid cage and makes for better breathing)
[all this also helps open up the body’s full speaker box, which takes in most of the upper body]

Concentrate on diaphragm breathing (the most efficient way to breath and it lengthens your breath, whereas as chest breathing is shorter and, especially when tense, can add to tension)

If you cannot breath with your diaphragm, here are some links to exercises:
Place your hand on the back of your neck and squeeze. This helps to open your throat. Yawning helps opens the throat even more. An open throat encourages a smooth flow of air over the vocal cords.

Loosen the jaw by shaking the hands. A loose and flexible jaw relaxes the jaw and helps with pronunciation. 

Humming is a great warm up for the vocals. Find the hum-pitch that feels comfortable, run it out long and slow, starting with full lungs and stopping just before empty. Hum a lot  to give full voice control and ease quaver. Count while humming and learn how much breath to take for the number of words you intend to utter.
Singing is also good for warming the vocals. It’s a good idea to choose a sing with a range from top to bottom. Do not force your voice. 

Tongue exercises – flat on the roof; flat on the floor; tongue behind top teeth and push out; then behind bottom teeth and push out; open mouth and stick out tongue as far as you can.

Finally, the lips – blow through then and allow them to flutter.

–  take time to breathe – let your arms do what they have to.
–  be yourself – it is you who gives you integrity, not her, the other one, the one who you may attempt to become.
–  try and talk to the audience as though they are one person only.
The most important person in the room is not you, but the person, the people, in front of you. 

Don’t think about yourself – think about them. Try and find out what they like about you, what they want to hear from you. And then, when you are friends, you can take risks.

Remember to breathe. Make sure you talk on your out breath with just enough oxygen for the number of words.


If you would rather the visuals, go to this set on uTube: Jon Doust Speaking Tips

2 thoughts on “Speaking Tips for Writers

  1. Crikey. :-\\ Wonder if I'm gonna have to speak when the book comes out? If it looks like I am, I'll be doing a lot of C&P of this page. And then probably being oafish and forgetting it all.

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