If there’s one thing I’ve learned about writers, it’s that we hate public speaking. Sure, public speaking tips are helpful—but we’d rather not have to give a speech in the first place.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about publishing, it’s that you’d better be able to speak publicly. It’s essential for pitching your book, sitting on panels, leading author talks, and more. One of my journalist friends was even asked to give an actual commencement speech to our high school!
7 Public Speaking Tips for Writers
I did some research for the inevitable moment when you’re also asked to prepare a great speech. Here are my seven tips:
1. Read Famous Speeches
Are there any orators who you admire? Don’t just listen to their speeches; print them out and read them. What techniques do they use in their writing?
2. Research Your Audience
Writers must always be aware of their audiences, but in speech writing, it’s more important than ever. You need the crowd to audibly react. Have you ever heard a speech described as “great” when the audience was silent the entire time? I didn’t think so!
My journalist friend giving the commencement speech returned to our high school and interviewed the students. He asked who the most and least popular teachers were. What controversies had gone down, and what were people talking about?
His efforts were rewarded. Despite inspiring stories and brilliant prose, his biggest punchline was the one about Mrs. Johnson’s papers.
People have short attention spans and can only take one or two lessons away from you.
Focus your speech on a couple of key points. Then focus your audience by telling them what you’re going to say (and when you’re done, remind them what you said).
It’s OK to be a bit repetitive in your speech. That said, you’re still a writer. Try to at least rephrase your points or to use synonyms to keep things interesting!
4. Pose a Question and Answer It
I’ve seen this technique used with TED Talks a lot. The speaker poses a problem or question, and then uses her time to answer it. I think it’s an effective way to keep the audience engaged.
5. Tell Stories
Writers are great storytellers. People love stories. Tell a story!
6. Use Quotes
We all have that favorite quote from a novel or essay we’ve read. Use it! It doesn’t even have to be particularly famous. If the quote was meaningful to you, tell your audience why. Then explain why you believe it’s relevant to them as well.
7. Don’t Get Hung Up on Grammar
A speech is designed to be heard, not read. Write like how you speak. Use contractions, colloquialisms, slang. Everyday grammatical errors will be forgiven in this forum, especially if it makes you sound more relatable.
Your Audience Is Waiting
It may seem intimidating to stand up in front of people and speak to a crowd. But you’ve got a handle on the first part already—you’re a writer, and you know how to put words on the page in a powerful, inspiring way. Work your way through these public speaking tips, take time to craft and practice your speech, take a deep breath, and go for it.
Your audience can’t wait to hear from you!
Have you written or given a speech? Do you know any public speaking tips we’ve missed? Tell us about them in the comments!
Take fifteen minutes to write a commencement speech for your high school or college. When you’re done, share your practice in the comments below. Don’t forget to leave feedback for your fellow writers!
Feeling bold? For bonus points, read your speech out loud to your family, a friend, your cat, or even a mirror.