10 public speaking tips for writers

Writers often work in solitude. But when it’s time to do a reading or a book signing, or to give a presentation or speech, you’re no longer in your own environment, and the nerves can really kick in! Do you dread public speaking? Here’s how to alleviate anxiety when you find yourself in the spotlight.

Public Speaking for Writers
Public Speaking for Writers

1. Don’t depend upon electronic devices.
Preparing your notes on a tablet, laptop or other device is tempting. But potential power and lighting issues – not to mention the risk of theft – make dependence upon technology risky. Remember Murphy’s Law! Be safe and have a backup: write your remarks on index cards or in a notebook, as well as keeping them on your mobile device.

2. Stay away from alcohol prior to giving your speech.
Alcohol is not a very good idea – it would be pretty awful to be all set to make your speech and then realize you forgot everything you were going to talk about because the alcohol has clouded your thinking. Stay in control.

3.Make sure that the beginning of your speech is a moment to relax. Greet and address your audience. Then pause for three seconds. This gives them a chance to focus on you, while you get a moment to transform your nervous energy into enthusiasm for the material you are about to deliver.

4. Try to keep your presentation – or each parts of it – to about 20 minutes or less.
This is the average attention span of most individuals, so speaking for longer than this is going to risk boring them.

If you’re giving a reading, you may have a larger chunk of time booked than twenty minutes. That’s good! If you have to speak for a longer period, just change gears after a while, to liven things up.

A great way to do this is to break your presentations into chunks. For instance, when giving a reading from one of your books, trying starting with telling the audience a little about yourself, and what inspired your work. Read one or more selections from the book. Then, open it up to questions. (Consider asking the audience questions, too.) After that, sign some books and mingle with the audience. Breaking up your time into chunks, while keeping the audience engaged, keeps things fresh and the audience interested.

5. But don’t go too short, either.
Talk long enough to give them what they want: a sense of your work, your style, and what you are all about. asically, when a speech is too short, you may not be giving all the information the audience is looking for.

6. Know your topic well, and be confident.
You know your stuff – you wrote about it, right? You’ve taken the necessary time to research your topic and have learned all you can. Let this guide you, and remember: you’re the one in control here.

Before your speech, make sure to look up any areas in which your memory is fuzzy or unclear. Right before the appearance, go flip through your index cards one last time – a quick review. This simple step can really ease your worries and boost your confidence.

7. Invite questions.
When delivering your speech or making your presentation, try to be flexible. If audience members ask questions, smile and answer them.

8. It’s OK to not know an answer – or even if you forget!
Don’t be afraid to let your audience know that don’t know the answer to some of their questions. It’s also OK to refer to your notes.

If you can tell them where else they might look for that information (another book, a website, a local business?), that’s even better.

People will respect your honesty and understand that you are human. (And everyone has has dealt with this at one point or another; they will understand).

Admitting you don’t know and moving on is so much better than bluffing, or rambling on trying to convince them you know the answer when you don’t. They’ll respect you for it!

9. Keep your sense of humor
Nothing puts people more at ease than a smile. You don’t want a pasted-on grin, but be sure to connect with the people, smile when you can. And, keeping a smile in your voice is always good, too. Remember to look up and make eye contact with your audience once in a while.

If you get flustered or lose your place, a smile – and, if you like, a little lighthearted joke – will make it better and endear you to the audience.

10. Practice! And look for more public speaking opportunities.
Rest assured, you’ll get more comfortable with practice. Practice at home and with family and friends. Seek out opportunities to speak in public, and to share your work. Check with local bookstores, libraries, literary conferences, churches and clubs for speaking opportunities. Begin practicing now!

Do you have tips for authors who need to do some public speaking? Please leave your comments below.


  1. Mark Kyte says

    There is some good advice here… To often people rely on PowerPoint, and have their entire presentation “written” on the slides. Not a good thing!! When PowerPoint fails, their entire presentation (and ALL the words they were going to say) are gone with it. Really not a good thing!!! The key to a successful presentation is to prepare properly.

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