Friday, May 13, 2011

How to be a Better Talker: Six Strategies for Writers (Part One)

        Like it or not, most professional writers are also professional speakers.

        Do you talk with editors, clients, or interviewees? Do you interact with students? Or read your work aloud at conferences or public events? If so, then speaking effectively is part of your job.

        Some writers love performing. Put them in front of a crowd, and they blossom. But many of us are less than thrilled.

        “I’m a writer, not an actor!”
        “I’m shy.”
        “I get stage fright.”
        “I just communicate better on the page—my writing is what really counts, right?”

        The fact is, your writing may never get read at all if you lack the skills to market yourself orally.

        This two-part post offers you seven practical techniques to help you boost your speaking ability. Ready? Here we go:

1. Slow down. Our ears absorb information much more slowly than our eyes do. If you speak at the same rate that you read, no one will take in what you’re saying. Practice by reading aloud at what may seem like a crazy-slow pace. When you’re having a casual chat, be aware of how quickly you’re talking. See if you can control the tempo.

If you feel okay about listening to your own voice (for some of us it’s too stressful), make a recording and listen to it several times. How clearly are you speaking? Are you tripping over words or sounds?

Nerves make everyone speed up. Have you ever gone for a job interview and found yourself babbling? Know that this happens to all of us. Anticipate it.

Once you learn to change your speed at will, you’ll automatically sound more confident—even when you’re secretly sweating.

2. Listen and react. Writing is a famously solitary activity. Unless you’re chatting online, you won’t be getting reader responses as you go.

But talk is interactive. Even someone giving a lecture is constantly getting feedback from her audience in real time. Pay attention to what others are contributing, and let it influence you.

This may mean something as simple as listening to what your client is saying, rather than focusing entirely on what you need to tell him. Or noticing when someone laughs, and winning them over by joining in.

If you find yourself tuning people out a lot, grab a sympathetic friend and practice reflective listening. That’s where Person A talks to Person B, and Person B just reflects back what she’s hearing:

Person A: I got invited to a networking event this Saturday, and I can’t wait to jump in!
You: You’re going to a networking event this weekend, and you seem really excited about it.

Make a point of asking questions during casual conversations, and really hear the answers. See how many you can remember afterwards.

3. Breathe. I know—everyone’s always telling you to breathe. But it really does help.
  • Breathe into your belly, and your voice will instantly improve. You’ll sound more interesting. More energized. More connected to what you’re saying.
  • Breathe, and you’ll notice your tense spots: jaw, neck, shoulders…. You can start to let that tension go.
  • Breathe, and everything else gets easier.

Coming up in Part Two: “What do I do with my hands?”

 Freya Shipley is a freelance writer with a background in linguistics and history. For a free quote (or just to say hi), visit her at Follow her on Twitter: @freya_221.

1 comment:

  1. Freya, this is so well-written and insightful! I love it! Especially the part about breathing. So easy to forget. Can't wait to read the next part!