Posts Tagged public speaking
This week I went to a preview performance of ‘The National Trust Fan Club’ by comedy performer Helen Wood prior to the show’s Edinburgh Festival run.
The show is an energetic, light-hearted romp around one hundred National Trust venues. There is also much talk about gift shops, tea shops and cream teas. There’s lots of humour and anyone who’s ever visited NT properties will identify with the content.
But what impressed me most about Helen’s performance was the way she remembered all the words! She talked non-stop for an hour and a quarter without the obvious use of any prompt or notes. When I speak to groups I talk for around 45 minutes, 90% of that time without looking at notes. However, I do have four index cards which contain quotes that I read to get the wording correct. I also have the comfort blanket of an A4 sheet containing a list of bullet points which I can glance at, should my mind go blank and I forget which section comes next (rarely happens – touch wood!). Helen had none of this but she did reel off dates, names and statistics.
So, what’s the best way of minimising the use of notes during a talk?
- Do NOT learn the whole speech off-by-heart. Doing this can mean your delivery will lack emotion and if you lose your place, it can be difficult to pick up the thread again.
- Use a list of bullet points to provide a pathway through the speech. If you will be using a lectern, these can be typed onto a sheet of A4. If the notes will be held in your hand, use index cards because they are less obvious than waving a piece of A4 around.
- Memorise the gist (not the exact wording) of what you will say to expand each bullet point. The actual words you use may vary each time you deliver the speech. This gives you the ability to more easily tailor the speech if time requirements change. Plus you are less likely to panic if you forget a sentence or two.
- Practise! It’s time-consuming but always leads to a better performance.
There are more tips on all areas of public speaking in Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners.
I’ve been beavering away on a couple of projects recently and am pleased to announce that one is now complete. Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners is now available on Amazon Kindle and paperback. It brings together everything I’ve learnt about addressing an audience over the last five years.
Who should buy this book?
- Anyone who has to speak in meetings (work or otherwise), on a committee or any other group scenario such as a book club or writing group.
- Anyone who’s been asked to speak at a wedding, funeral, family party or similar occasion.
- Anyone with something to promote. That something could be a business, a favourite charity, a political or community campaign, a sports team in need of a sponsor, a club appealing for new members or anything that needs someone to pitch for publicity.
- Anyone who’d like to be paid for talking about their passion. (I receive a small fee when talking about writing to community groups).
- Anyone not included in the above. Remember those times you’ve felt awkward introducing yourself at a writers’ workshop, ‘selling’ yourself at an interview or making a complaint in a shop? There are times when we all lack confidence but being able to organise our thoughts and speak calmly makes these situations much easier.
As the title suggests, Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners is aimed at those with no or very little experience of addressing an audience – that was the starting point for my journey in public speaking when I joined Sutton Coldfield Speakers Club in September 2013. The club is part of the Association of Speakers Clubs (ASC) and in 2018 I represented the Midlands in the national final of the ASC Speech Competition. Back in 2013 I had no desire at all to enter a speech competition and never expected to find myself, a few years later, speaking in a competitive situation on a stage in a packed hall at the ASC Annual Conference. It’s amazing what we can achieve with a bit of encouragement, self-belief and hard work!
But far more important than the competition, several people have commented on how much more confident I’ve become in everyday life since learning to speak in public – and I think that is the real benefit to me from the last few years. I wrote Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners to minimise the fear that we all feel when asked ‘to say a few words’.
I hope it will help you grow in confidence too.
Over the past month I’ve done a few speaking engagements. Audiences have included a reading group, a writing group and a couple of social groups for the over fifties.
I’ve noted down a few of the things I’ve learned along the way:
- If using a microphone hold it close to the lips. If you move your head, move the microphone as well – otherwise your voice will fade out!
- If you open the floor to questions at the end and none is immediately forthcoming, jump in with, ‘One question I’m often asked is …..’ and then you can talk about whatever you want.
- Forty-five minutes is a long time to talk and a long time to listen. Maintain attention and renew your speaking energy by breaking the speech into modules or topics. Every time you change module you’ll get a new burst of enthusiasm and the slight change of subject will keep the interest of the audience.
- If you pose a question or ask for a show of hands, be prepared in case you don’t get the response you’d hoped for. A quick quip up your sleeve can be useful in this situation.
- Keep readings from your work short.
- Use as few notes as possible.
- Project your enthusiasm.
- Remember the audience is on your side. They want to enjoy your talk.
- Enjoy it!
At the end of April I was in York for the ASC’s 2018 Conference and National Competition Finals.
I’ve never attended before and was only there this year because, to my surprise and shock, I won my way through the Club, Area and District rounds of the speech competition. When I entered the Club competition last November, I didn’t anticipate that five months later I’d be representing the Midlands in competition against seven other contestants from all parts of the UK. My anxiety levels were sky high and further increased by having to use a clip-on microphone for the first time and face my biggest ever audience.
But what has this got to do with writing?
I needed a subject for my speech. It had to be something I could talk about enthusiastically, something most people would have an interest in and something I could structure logically into a speech.
So I ‘taught’ the audience how to write a romantic novel (how many people have you heard say – ‘I could/would like to write a novel?’).
I only had eight minutes to speak so it was a quick and dirty ‘lesson’ based on the following points:
- Choosing a genre
- Choosing a setting
- Naming characters
- Obstacle to the love affair
- Event that brings the couple back together
To drive each point home I concocted a romantic ‘novel’ about Tony and Janet falling in love and having a date at the hotel where the conference was being held. I concluded by revealing the absolute peanuts that most authors get as financial reward and asked the audience the question, ‘Is it worth it?’
I didn’t win and wasn’t placed in the top three. I was up against some fantastic speakers. The winner was a sixteen-year-old girl who was extremely confident and gave an excellent performance, talking about the scourge of selfie-taking complete with props of a mobile phone and selfie stick. However, we all received a lovely paperweight as a souvenir of the occasion.
Later at the event, I was talking to a lady and she told me how members of her party had been having fun in the bar dreaming up their own spoof romance based on my speech. I was delighted to hear this – it meant people had listened to me and had absorbed and remembered what I’d said. And isn’t that what public speaking is all about?
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.
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.
Earlier this week I gave a talk to a local neighbourhood forum group. They are a mixed bunch of people who meet every couple of months principally to discuss what should be done to improve our locality. But before their business meeting they often have a speaker – hence my visit with my pile of books to speak about my experience of self-publishing.
When I’d finished my spiel there was time for questions. This can be the point when things go awkwardly quiet because no one likes to be the first to speak. But the forum chairman was great at getting things started. He’d been scribbling as I talked and had noted several points to raise with me. His questions got the audience relaxed and soon everyone was asking things.
I’m pleased to report that no one came up with the old chestnut ‘where do you get your ideas’ but here are some of the things I was asked:
- What do you think of ghost writers? (in relation to books by celebrities)
- How many words can your write in one hour? (I’d told them about NaNoWriMo)
- Could your book be made into a film?
- How many books have you sold?
- How much did it cost to have the novel professionally edited?
- Would I consider writing a historical novel?
- Could I make my book available in Waterstones?
- Did JK Rowling and EL James find it difficult to get published?
- Would I be willing to go and talk to two reading groups that a couple of the attendees were members of? (Yes!)
It was great to get people engaged, pass on the message that self-published books can be just as good as traditionally published works and sell some copies of Bedsit Three.