Public speaking has long been an important part of getting your writing out there. Charles Dickens spent years touring and performing his work. Public speaking doesn’t come easily to everyone, though. Some of us enjoy it, whilst others are petrified at the mere idea of it.

I have to admit, I love public speaking. I get a huge adrenaline rush from it. It still petrifies me though, especially if I’m reading my own work. I don’t like the idea of all those people staring at me, nor do I like the sound of my own voice (despite having done radio), but I love talking and expressing myself. That’s what public speaking is all about for me: it’s another art form and way to get myself heard.

Why You Need Public Speaking Skills

  • It’s inevitable that you’ll be asked to perform your work at some point
  • Performing your work is a great way to get it out there. After all, who knows it best?
  • It’s a great way to boost your confidence
  • The skills learnt can also be applied to other situations too, like job interviews

1. Watch

Go to local events and watch what others do. Take in the atmosphere, and if there's a speaker whose style you particularly like, talk to them afterwards and ask for some tips.

Go to local events and watch what others do. Take in the atmosphere, and if there’s a speaker whose style you particularly like, talk to them afterwards and ask for some tips. 

Don’t just stick to watching people from your area—watch around too. So if you’re a poet, watch writers read their fiction too. Or even watch some TEDx talks and see what the speakers do there. Some people wave their arms around, others stand perfectly still. Some people walk all around the stage, others prefer to sit. The more you watch, the more you’ll pick these things up and start to find something that works for you.

2. Practise

Ey up mi duck!

Practise reading the piece you want to perform until you can stand it no more. Practise in front of the mirror, in front of friends and family — even record yourself (if you dare!) so that you can watch it back. Once you’re sick of reading it, practise it some more.

3. Get feedback

7 Tips on How to Improve Your Public Speaking

Get your friends, family, and any other willing volunteers, to watch you. They’ll be able to comment on your reading speed, enunciation and body language. 

4. Don’t rush

Practise, practise, practise!

Ok, you’re petrified. Some people speak quickly when scared. That’s ok. But if you’re reading quickly, you’re more likely to mess up or trip over yourself. Not to mention your audience won’t be able to understand you. If you think it’s likely you’ll fall into this trap, make note on the piece you’re reading. Either draw symbols or write words like ‘SLOW DOWN’ in the margin. If you’re reading a poem, put a / or | where there’s a pause. This is easier to notice when you’re reading. You may also find that you pause in more places than you have punctuation marks for, so using symbols that you don’t add to the written version is a great way to not affect the layout of the poem but make sure you read it how you envisioned.

5. Enunciate

The voice and tone of a poem is incredibly important and can change how it makes the reader feel.

Make sure any complicated words are properly pronounced. If there are any phrases you’re unhappy with or find difficult to say, practise them or consider changing it. 

Also, don’t mumble. You want your audience to be able to hear what you’re saying, and the more you mumble the harder it will be for them to follow you.

Reading too quickly can also mean that you don’t enunciate enough.

6. Don’t look down!

Don't look down when performing!

One of the most common mistakes is to look down when you’re talking. DON’T. It will make your voice project down instead of out, making it more difficult for your audience to hear you.

I get it, you’re scared of that crowd out there. That’s ok. That’s normal. But don’t picture them naked: I find that just makes things awkward. Something my nan taught me to think about when faced with someone I don’t like or find intimidating is this: everyone has to go to the loo. That’s right. Picture them on the toilet.

Not so scary now, are they?

Perhaps don’t picture everyone on the toilet whilst you’re performing, but remind yourself of it before you go onstage: they’re only human, just like you.

7. Just bloody do it

Once you get into it, public speaking really isn't scary at all.

Once it’s all over and done with you’ll realise it really wasn’t such a big deal after all. A lot of local reading events have warm, welcoming atmospheres and can be especially accommodating to new readers. If you get to know a few of the regulars it will help you to relax beforehand. Likewise take a supportive friend along for moral support. You’ll be a regular reader in no time!

How did you handle your first time reading your work aloud? Was it as scary as you thought it would be? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments!