3 Tricks to Surviving a Public Speaking Event

You know what I find interesting? That statistic claiming that more people are afraid of public speaking than of anything else in the world. I mean, the everyday person would rather be trapped in a cave, touch a spider, or be chased by clowns than address a crowd.

But in today’s market, visibility is huge. Somewhere between 600,000 and 1 million books were self-published last year IN THE US ALONE. For readers to know about our books, we’ve got to get out there and be seen. And that means book signings, school visits, library engagements, speaking at conferences, etc. If the mere thought makes you break out in hives, take a deep breath, because Rachel Amphlett is here to share 3 simple tips for surviving any public speaking event. IT CAN BE DONE, PEOPLE!

Creative Company Conference 2011

Sebastiaan ter Burg @ Creative Commons

Most writers I know, myself included, are quite happy in their own little worlds. We might venture out to go to work, socialize with friends, or do the shopping but we’re never happier than when we’re tucked away daydreaming or scribbling down frantic notes for our current works in progress.

The problem is, when we are required to do public speaking, we’re simply not equipped for it. In fact, we’re terrified. So, how do you go from happy introvert to confident extrovert, even if it’s just for a few minutes?

Prepare Yourself

You’re probably going to be asked to read an excerpt from your latest work. The trick here is to read it out aloud on your own a couple of times during the week leading up to the event.

Talking out loud is a lot different to talking in your head. You’ll spot the words you’re likely to trip over, you’ll discover a whole new meaning to ‘pacing’ and, more importantly, you’ll find the places where you can come up for air.

Yes, remember to breathe – please. We don’t want you passing out from lack of air.

Know Your Audience

The first public talk I ever did with regard to my writing was in a library, on a Saturday morning, to two people. Yes, two.

I was still scared. These lovely ladies had read about my first novel in the local paper and had decided that they’d better come along to see what I had to say for myself.

I quickly realised it would be ridiculous if I insisted on standing and pacing about in front of them, so instead we pulled up a little circle of chairs and I started off by explaining how I decided to write a book. Before I knew it, a whole hour had gone by, two of the library employees had joined us, and they’d all grabbed details of how to download my book (it was only available as an eBook at the time, and the library still supported me, thank goodness), and we’ve exchanged emails since that time.

Sitting down and being at the same level as my audience meant we were a lot more approachable to each other – the gesture broke down any ‘us and them’ barriers that might have otherwise been in place, and led to a much better engagement. And I realized that they weren’t so scary after all.

The key here is to size up your audience and adjust your presentation, if necessary. Are the guests talkative and chatty? Engage them with questions. Are people taking lots of notes? Slow down the tiniest bit to allow them time to write. Reading your audience is hugely helpful in allowing you to tailor your presentation to their needs, which can make for a more successful event.

Take Your Time

For the life of me, I can’t remember where I learnt this trick, but trust me – it works. Whatever the occasion, when it’s your turn to stand up in front of an audience, make them wait.

Not too long, though. By taking your time, I mean walk up to the podium, stage or whatever speaking platform has been set up, and either open the book and run your gaze over the first few sentences, or adjust the microphone. Adjusting the microphone is my favorite trick. Personally, I haven’t got an excuse, because at six foot tall I usually tower over my host anyway, but it’s a fantastic way to prepare for public speaking.

When I was asked to read an excerpt from my first book at an international thriller author’s book launch, I adjusted the microphone, looked up at the audience, and asked if they could hear me okay. A few people at the back called out that they could, and off I went. Those precious few seconds allowed me to:

• Get my breathing under control
• Eyeball my audience
• Engage with my audience, and prepare them (and me!) for the sound of my voice

Hopefully the above tips will help ease your nerves leading up to your moment in the spotlight. If public speaking is something you’d like to develop, there are several groups you can join, Toastmasters being the obvious choice, and one I’ve participated in a couple of times. I found them to be incredibly supportive and attentive listeners and the feedback is invaluable. Often, the hurdle is getting used to your own voice, but once you’ve done that, you’ll be well on your way to being a confident public speaker, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

Rachel Amphlett_web_4322Rachel Amphlett previously worked in the UK publishing industry, played lead guitar in rock bands, and worked with BBC radio before relocating from England to Australia in 2005. After returning to writing, Rachel enjoyed publication success both in Australia and the United Kingdom with her short stories, before her first thriller White Gold was released in 2011. Her Dan Taylor thrillers (White Gold and Under Fire) and her latest standalone thriller, Before Nightfall, are all Amazon bestsellers. Currently, two further independent projects are in draft stage, while a third Dan Taylor thriller is being researched. You can keep in touch with Rachel via her mailing listFacebook, and Twitter.


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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25 Responses to 3 Tricks to Surviving a Public Speaking Event

  1. Pingback: Five Links Friday 3/25/16 | Write Good Books

  2. Pingback: Public Speaking For Writers

  3. Chief says:

    Fear is the greatest enemy. Once it is taken away, everything else falls into place.

  4. Pingback: Monday Must-Reads [12.01.14]

  5. This is some awesome advice though the idea of public speaking breaks me out in a cold sweat. I think I could handle sitting with the audience and talking with them in a more intimate setting.

    • It gets easier the more you do it I find. I was terrified the first time, but the more often I speak, the less anxiety I feel. I think because of this, i recommend to all writers that if you get an opportunity to speak in front of a crowd, take it. It will make things easier in the long run, I promise!

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  7. Julie Musil says:

    Just the thought of public speaking makes my heart beat faster. I didn’t even like speaking out loud with a critique group. These are excellent suggestions for people like me–who would definitely rather be stuck in a cave than speak in front of other people.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  8. Dawn Malone says:

    I’ve found that when I speak to groups, the arrangement of the room makes a huge difference. Of course most of the time the speaker has no control over it, but I like to look at public speaking as more of a ‘conversation’, so I only speak to smaller groups at this point. If the room is too big, and everyone is facing me expecting a lecture, that’s when I get unnerved. I like what you said, Rachel, about meeting your audience on their level, pulling up a chair at the library to talk with the attendees. That’s why I try to make it as interactive as possible. To me, it feels more personal, and this relaxes me.

  9. Nice article! I’m awful at speaking in front of an audience. I turn into a mushy, stammering mess unless I’ve prepared, practised and almost memorised everything I need to say.

    I’ll be sure to remember these tips. Thanks!

  10. :Donna Marie says:

    Any tips that can help with public speaking are wonderful! Thanks 🙂 I wonder if there will ever come a time I’ll actually have to use them! lol

  11. For me, it’s natural when speaking to a group to avoid eye contact with the audience members, since catching eyes with someone makes me more likely to lose my train of thought or stumble in my presentation. But eye contact is hugely important in making connections with people, which is what you want to accomplish when giving a speech or presentation. I have to remind myself that the people are more important than the presentation. This actually helps me to let go and be a little more natural in my presentation, which I think comes across better to the audience.

    • Thanks Becca – yes, eye contact is the hardest, isn’t it? A great trick is to run your finger under the words as you’re reading – that way you can glance up from your book, make eye contact and then delve straight back in without losing your place!

  12. Excellent tips! I’ll add one that is odd, but really boosts the speaker’s energy and confidence levels. It has been proven that a person feels “pumped up” through certain shifts to extroverted body posture and movements. Right before you have to go onstage, find a bathroom or quiet hall and raise your arms up high and wide in the “victory V” pose, like you just finished first place in a race. Hold it for half a minute! You’ll start grinning, and your brain chemicals will lift some of your nerves away and you feel pretty awesome. It really does work–give it a try! 🙂

  13. Angela Brown says:

    Thank you so much for the tips, Rachel. My favorite tip would be to not do public speaking engagements. But…that wouldn’t qualify as a tip, more like avoidance.

  14. Gail says:

    A group like Toastmasters is a great way to improve your public speaking selfconfidence.

  15. jeffo says:

    Good tips, Rachel. I would add this about the ‘preparation’ part: when my writers’ group published an anthology and we read aloud at an event, I printed my piece out in standard manuscript format. I also practiced, timed myself, and made several notations on the script where there were stumble combinations, etc. This way I didn’t have to fight with the pages of a book, read through smallish print, single space. Big help.

    Also–body language. Stand straight, shoulders square, head up. Studies indicate that not only does this sort of posture make you look more confident to the audience, it makes you feel more confident, no matter how nervous you are. I have found this to be true. And, last but not least, when reading: slow down. Nervousness tends to make us speed up. You tend to read faster than you think you are.

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