When I began my nonfiction writing career, all I wanted to do was write. I imagined myself writing articles for glossy magazines produced in New York City. Later, I developed dreams of writing traditionally published books and then also self-published books. Nowhere in my visions did I see myself as a professional speaker, only as a professional nonfiction writer.
I did know I would have to speak occasionally. I wanted to teach on the subjects of my books, but somehow that felt different to me. Being a teacher wasn’t the same in my mind as being a speaker.
Every Author Needs to be a Speaker
As I learned more about becoming a successful nonfiction author, however, I realized that many speak as well—at least the most successful ones. Teaching is, indeed, one aspect of speaking, but to support my career as an author I saw that I might need to actually walk up to the lectern and offer a keynote speech or a talk during a conference session or at an organization’s meeting or some other event. And I might need to do this often.
A literary agent confirmed this for me, encouraged me to get out and begin speaking to build my author platform. I then heard the message repeated at several writers’ conferences by authors, agents, acquisitions editors, publicist, and public relations professionals. I watched how some of my favorite authors promoted their books, as well as how they had built their platforms. All of them were speakers as well as writers.
Why Speaking Helps Authors Succeed
As I studied these authors, I came to the same conclusion as the professionals: Speaking helps an author succeed. Why? Because it allows them to touch potential readers in a much more personal manner than writing. It’s “face time.” That’s why video works so well for selling books—or anything.
Most of us want to get to know those from whom we purchase just about anything. We want to know, like and trust them. And if we are going to “buy into” what a nonfiction author has to say in a book, we want to believe what they have to say is true and will provide us with value—will transform our lives in some way. What better way to convince someone of this than standing before them and actually speaking to them face to face?
I have proven this fact. I not only sell many books—an above-average percentage—at most events where I speak. Additionally, if I speak often, my book sales rise on Amazon.
You can know more about me in five minutes from watching my face, my posture, my movements, than you can in five hours of reading my blog. That’s a fact. When I realized this, I knew I would have to speak as well as write.
Fear of Public Speaking
Fear of public speaking has been reported as the #1 fear among Americans. It ranks higher than death. I was nervous about speaking before an audience when I first began. In fact, my hands used to shake and my mouth would get dry, making it very hard to talk at all. Even a few years ago after many years as a public speaker I was asked to speak before a larger audience than normal, and I found my knees actually knocking!
Fear of speaking, like fear of anything, starts in your thoughts or beliefs. It’s there that you need to counter it. If you are like me, you tend to make yourself afraid with thoughts that you might:
- Say something stupid or look stupid
- Be ridiculed
- Be laughed at
- Forget what to say
In fact, because you have written a book on the topic, or are writing such a book, you know your material. And, if you take the time to dress well, you’ll look nice (if not perfect), people will laugh with you (not at you) when you say something humorous, and, if you practice your speech, you will remember what to say.
How to Get Over Fear of Speaking
I overcame my fear of speaking simply by going out and doing it. I started with small groups—10-30 people. I would bring what I’ve always called my “talk cards,” my talk broken down into bullet points and printed on 8”x5” cards. I would use them to help me remember my speech. I had the great fortune of speaking at a New Though Church for several years on a somewhat regular basis. Each time I spoke they asked me to relate my topic to their “theme of the month. That meant I had to cater my information to their theme. This also meant I could never speak about the same thing twice. So I learned to show up without my speech necessarily memorized. I just made sure it was the right length for the amount of time I had, for example, 30 minutes, and that I knew the material well enough to use the bullet points to prompt me through to the end. After doing this enough times, I gained the confidence that I could get up in front of an audience and speak with authority on a variety of subjects.
Plus, the small audiences gave me a chance to interact with people individually. They often asked questions, and I became adept at answering as well as speaking in an impromptu manner. This has helped me immensely as I have gone on to speak for larger and larger groups and to field more and more questions.
Remember Why You Speak
The fear of public speaking gets worse when you forget why you chose to speak in the first place: to provide a service and to share your knowledge with others. I remind myself prior to speaking to any audience that I am there to share with them great information that will educate, help, transform or inspire them in some way. I remind myself that is why they came to hear me speak. That’s what they are hoping for and what they desire—help, information, answers, solutions, inspiration, transformation, value. They didn’t come to see me fail. They came to see me succeed, because if I succeed, they succeed. When I ground myself in that knowledge, it’s much easier to stand in front of any sized crowd and open my mouth without fear.
Plus, I remember something I was told once: Every time you speak to an audience, there is at least one person in that room who needs to hear what you have to say. Your words are meant for that person—or so they think. (But you can speak to that person.) That person will leave feeling you have spoken directly to him, that you came just for her. That is reason enough to offer your speech—even if no one else in the room gets anything at all out of what you had to say. But remember that every single person in the room might feel as if you spoke directly to him or her.
How to Prepare to Speak
There are many techniques out there on how to relax before you speak or get over the fear of public speaking. In addition to the things I’ve already mentioned, I like to just take a few deep breaths and ask a Higher Power or Source to channel through me the information that the particular audience to whom I’m speaking needs to hear.
I also make sure I’m prepared. That means I have my PowerPoint presentation ready on the computer and a back up on a thumb drive as well as my talk cards printed and in my bag. This means I can deliver my speech even if technology fails. And I practice the speech so I feel comfortable delivering it. I do not have it memorized. (I feel that makes it stilted.) Knowing I’ve done this reduces my stress and allows me to relax and be present with the audience and to feel comfortable delivering my speech.
If you need more advice on how to move through your fear of speaking, you can find many great articles online, including these six:
- Speaking in Public: two errors that lead to fear
- Fear of Public Speaking: the Fear that Stalls Careers
- 5 Tips to Reduce the Fear of Public Speaking
- How Can I Overcome My Fear Of Public Speaking?
- The Zen Secret For Ending The Fear Of Public Speaking
- Joining Toastmasters to Overcome a Fear of Public Speaking
If you don’t have the chance to practice speaking professionally before small groups, consider joining Toastmasters. Many people I know learned how to speak this way. It also gives you the opportunity to practice delivering talks to an audience.
Now, I enjoy speaking as much as writing. In fact, I love being in front of an audience. It’s one of the parts of being an author I enjoy most.
How do you feel about becoming a speaker as well as an author?
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