Public Speaking Tips for Authors

Those of you who’ve been following this blog for a while will know that a few years ago I joined Sutton Coldfield Speakers’ Club in order to gain the public speaking confidence necessary to promote myself and my books at author events. Last week I was part of a panel of three judges for a speech competition at a neighbouring club. The speeches were 6 to 8 minutes long and had a completely open theme.

Public Speaking for Writers

Thank You Gift for Judging Speech Competition!

All the speakers were confident in front of an audience and all chose subjects with wide appeal. They all did well. After we’d decided on the winner and runner-up, we judges discussed the points the head judge should make in her summing up of the competition. The aim of the summing up was to give general advice for the contestants and members of the audience to take away. Listed below are some of these points plus other tips I picked up from my observation of the speakers. They maybe useful to those of you devising an author talk:

  • Beware of meaningless gestures i.e. continually moving your arms as you speak
  • Beware of keeping your arms rigidly still throughout – include a few meaningful gestures e.g. expanding your arms to describe the size of something or stamping a foot to jolt/surprise the audience
  • Project your voice from the very first word you utter. Grab the audience’s attention!
  • Don’t continually sway from side to side or move your weight from one foot to another. It’s disconcerting to watch a human pendulum!
  • Inject a little humour. Not in the form of a joke but perhaps a throwaway observation on something the audience is familiar with.
  • Make eye contact with all parts of the audience – this means shifting your eye gaze around the room as you speak.
  • Speak with minimal reference to notes – this will free you up to make appropriate gestures and make lots of eye contact with your audience. Don’t read your talk!

From my own experience, I would add – don’t be put off if someone in the audience falls asleep. This has happened to me twice when speaking to groups of older ladies. The first time I put it down to the fact that we’d all just enjoyed a nice, big lunch. The second time, the organiser warned me in advance that one particular lady always went to sleep when they had a speaker and sure enough, I saw her head nod and her eyes close quite soon after I’d started.

However many times you do it, speaking in public is nerve-wracking – if you’d like to practise in front of a sympathetic audience, find a Speakers’ Club near you.

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  1. #1 by juliathorley on November 8, 2017 - 1:39 pm

    I’m hoping to be doing a bit more public speaking and maybe reading out some of the stories in my monologues collection every now and then, so I’m grateful for all this advice. Might I also add, don’t forget to close your mouth occasionally or you will run out of breath!

    • #2 by Sally Jenkins on November 8, 2017 - 4:34 pm

      Good luck with the public speaking, Julia. And, yes, breathing is good!

  2. #3 by lynnforthauthor on November 8, 2017 - 2:11 pm

    Very helpful advice, Sally.

  3. #5 by hilarycustancegreen on November 8, 2017 - 8:01 pm

    I went to our local Toastmasters club to prepare for giving a series of talks and they were wonderful!

    • #6 by Sally Jenkins on November 9, 2017 - 2:08 pm

      Yes, I’ve heard they’re good too. Worth checking them out.

  4. #7 by Patsy on November 9, 2017 - 10:39 am

    Good tips, especially about the humour. We all like to laugh, but we don’t all find the same things funny so obvious jokes can easily fall flat.

    • #8 by Sally Jenkins on November 9, 2017 - 2:07 pm

      Exactly, Patsy – & if you can make the audience smile they are immediately on your side.

  5. #9 by Alyson Faye on November 10, 2017 - 7:49 pm

    Useful post, thanks, I’ve been doing more readings of my work lately and also giving history talks to Women’s groups- so I keep learning from my mistakes – humour in fiction works really well, if your audience laughs (as I discovered) at your words then you’re on a winner plus it gives me a warm feeling- like Hurrah I did that! A lot of writers are self conscious and keep their heads glued to the pages and rush it, you’ve got to practise looking up

    • #10 by Sally Jenkins on November 11, 2017 - 8:00 pm

      Well done on getting out there with your readings, Alyson. And you’re right, there’s nothing worse than someone never making eye contact with the audience. However, with a reading it’s much more difficult to keep up that contact without losing your place on the page. And it’s even harder if, like me, you need glasses for reading but the same glasses make the audience go all blurry. I think, like anything, it gets easier the more you practise.

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