Public Speaking Tips for Writers: 7 Keys for a Great Speech

by Monica M. Clark | 13 comments

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.

Public Speaking Tips for Writers: 7 Keys to a Great Speech

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.

3. Focus

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!

PRACTICE

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.

How to Write Like Louise PennyWant to write like Louise Penny? Join our new class and learn how. Learn more and sign up here.

Join Class

Next LIVE lesson is coming up soon!

Monica is a lawyer trying to knock out her first novel. She lives in D.C. but is still a New Yorker. You can follow her on her blog or on Twitter (@monicamclark).

13 Comments

  1. PJ Reece

    Yes, I joined Toastmasters for this very reason — to be able to pitch my stuff. On Wednesday I’m delivering an after-dinner speech to writers. It’s based on Steven Pressfield’s book, “Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t.” So I go on to explain, then, “why we continue to write.” I hope it’s funny, because no one wants anything too serious after dinner. Thanks, Monica, for bringing up these notes on speechifying.

    Reply
    • Yvette Carol

      I did exactly the same, PJ. I joined Toastmasters two years ago, in order to be able to deliver my first speech (at my book launch). However, as Monica has pointed out, there are on-going opportunities to speak in public as an author. So, I’m still going to Toastmasters. My second book launch is coming up in a few weeks, and this time round, I have a lot more confidence, which I put down to TM membership directly. 🙂

    • Adrienne Herbert

      I usually dread public speaking. Normal chit-chat, sure. The only one speaking before a group, there’s a reason I’m an introvert. But these tips are great and seem extremely helpful. Thanks. 🙂

    • Yvette Carol

      Funny thing is, Adrienne, most of the folks in my Toastmasters club are introverts (as I am, too!) but we make the greatest speakers! It’s because we can talk to an audience almost as “one person” therefore it still has the one-to-one feel that we like. It’s when the meeting’s over and you have to stand around mingling and chatting that the wheels start to fall off the wagon!

    • Yvette Carol

      p.s. I wish I could be there for that speech. Have you thought of getting it on video? You could share the link through you blog… 🙂

    • PJ Reece

      Yvette… nice to see you here. Good idea re. the video. The thought crossed my mind. I’ll keep you posted.

    • Yvette Carol

      I had the same reaction when I saw you here, PJ. This was where we met, too, years ago! I actually still keep in touch with a number of people who used to comment on this blog about 5 years back 🙂 And I’m also good friends social-network-wise with Pinar who also follows your blog. 🙂 I love that connectivity.
      Please do let me know if you tape your speech! I didn’t know you were a fellow Toastmaster. I’m gearing up to deliver a talk at club tomorrow which relates writing books to parenting children. 🙂

  2. Jason Bougger

    Nice post! I gave my first solo author talk late last month and what I found helped the most was to put the camera on myself and record myself practicing. It helped me with my body language, as well as gave me a little more confidence to sound more conversational than rehearsed, which was what I needed in that case.

    Speaking in public is never easy, so thanks for the good advice.

    Reply
    • Yvette Carol

      I just recommended the same thing, Jason, to a friend I’m coaching for a TED talk. It was through videotaping myself speak that I discovered I was blinking rapidly! Nervous tics like that are off-putting for the audience. I learned to keep my eyes relaxed 🙂

  3. Yvette Carol

    Thanks, Monica. They say that the art of public speaking is something that can be learned, yes, and just as easily lost. Those folks I’ve met from Toastmasters who left the association and then later returned, have said that in the years between, they lost the knack of speaking easily in public. It’s a skill that needs to be maintained through practice!

    Reply
  4. Mike

    Thanks for sharing such GREAT information, Monica!! When I took public speaking courses in college, I had a great teacher who always told us that no matter how serious a talk we do, that putting a bit, even the tiniest bit of humor in it releases the tension in both the speaker, and everyone else in the room. His other advice? Practice, Practice, and more Practice!

    Reply
  5. Robbie Cheadle

    Some great tips on public speaking.

    Reply
  6. Susan Bender Phelps

    I am a speaker and I coach speakers. One of my favorite tips, in addition to these is: Final words stick. Don’t close a presentation with the Q&A. Take back the platform and deliver your powerful close.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Say Yes to Practice

Join over 450,000 readers who are saying YES to practice. You’ll also get a free copy of our eBook 14 Prompts:

Popular Resources

Books By Our Writers

The Girl Who Broke the Dark
- Evelyn Puerto
Box of Shards
- K.M. Hotzel
25
Share to...