Why Writers Need Public Speaking Skills

by Lillian Csernica on November 14, 2013

The smartest thing I ever did in high school was joining the Speech and Debate Team.  I talk a lot anyway, always have, so it made sense to harness a natural skill and train it so I could apply my speaking skills in the most useful ways possible.  Besides, I like trophies.  Wave one of those in front of me and it’s a powerful motivator.

Writers use their verbal skills on paper.  Sure, we talk to each other, brainstorming and talking shop in the coffeehouse or via Skype or on our cells.  Many of us prefer the wonders of technology as a buffer between us and other people, even our friends.  Face to face encounters can be a real strain.  Why?  Speaking for myself, I can’t handle more than a certain level of noise pollution.  There are restaurants I avoid not because the food isn’t good but because the interior design makes the acoustics painful.  Also, there are some people I know whom I enjoy a great deal, but I can be in their physical presence for only a limited time.  Some people just wear me out.  As extroverted as I am, when I’ve hit my limit, I go into my office and shut the door and hole up in my private sanctuary.  I’m sure you can relate.

In our brave new world of e-books and G+ hangouts and podcasts and other means of transmitting interviews, writers don’t have to stand up in front of live audiences to do their self-promotion.  That’s fine, but it’s also very limiting.  If you’re successful and you build a following, sooner or later you’re going to have to leave your sanctuary, get out there and do a local author reading at the library, a book signing, maybe even a book tour.  Since I work mainly in fantasy and romance, I have the advantage of attending SF/F cons.  I haven’t been to any Romance Writers of America gatherings yet, but that’s been a problem with logistics, not motivation.

When you meet your public, you will be doing public speaking.  Even if you’re just sitting in the conference room at the library, or behind a table in a bookstore, you’re still “onstage,” so to speak.  Being on panel discussions at conventions calls for public speaking skills in the truest sense.  Yes, I know this terrifies some people.  Studies have shown that many people fear public speaking more than they fear going to the dentist or even death itself.  When I started out on the Speech Team as a sophomore in high school, I was quite nervous.  I had a good coach, I knew my topics, and believe me, I practiced for hours.  Still, the fight or flight response pumped me full of adrenalin.  So I do understand.

Now I’m going to indulge in some naked bragging here.  During my senior year on the Speech Team, I won fifteen trophies, ten of which were First Place.  I went on to participate on the Speech and Debate Team at my local junior college.  By the end of my second year there, I’d won three gold medals at the state level, and two gold, one silver, and one bronze at the national level.  I retired Number One in California and Number Five in the entire U.S.

Why am I telling you this?  Because public speaking is your friend.  Once you get over the initial anxiety and learn the secrets, you can actually have a good time at it.  Don’t take my word for it.  I happened across an article that inspired me to write this post:

Six Psychological Secrets To Public Speaking

I have a good time at conventions for several reasons, but one of the most important is that I really enjoy being on panel discussions and swapping ideas with other writers.  The audiences are made up of highly intelligent, widely read, and often opinionated fans who are a pleasure to meet and who have a lot to contribute.  I’m often the moderator on panels because I’m comfortable with the role and I can direct the discussion so every panelist gets his or her share of speaking time.  More than once this has taken the load off the assigned moderator who really did not want the job.  That person might have been more of an expert on the panel topic, but the fear of public speaking made that person want to hang back. Understandable, but self-defeating.  For writers, conventions and other public appearances are all about self-promotion.  You want to project confidence in yourself and your work.

One really good way to get some experience with public speaking is to join your local chapter of Toastmasters.  They have an excellent training program and they’re all about being supportive of the people who want to learn what they have to teach.


Filed under Awards, Conventions, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, history, Horror, Humor, romance, science fiction, Self-image, Writing

16 responses to “Why Writers Need Public Speaking Skills

  1. Great post, and congrats on having achieved great public speaking success. Funny you should mention Toastmasters. I belong to a local chapter, and indeed it is one of the best things a writer, or anyone who spends a lot of time around people and behind the podium, can do. They have off-the-cuff speeches, prepared speeches, you name it … even a grammarian. Best part is … it becomes fun after some time.
    Very informative post.


    • Hi, Silvia! Thank you for your kind words, and thank you also for validating my comments about Toastmasters. They’re a great group. I know a few members, and they’ve all said good things about their training.


  2. Rebecca Douglass

    Nice post. I’m a weirdo who is often uncomfortable interacting one-on-one with strangers, but am quite comfortable speaking in public. I have lots of chances to do the latter, though not usually on topics about myself or my books (I did get nervous when addressing a very small (8 people) meeting of the local Rotary; I actually think I would have been more comfortable if it had been a sea of faces instead of a few people).

    But put me in a party situation and I either cling to someone I know well, or end up hiding in a corner watching others, longing to go home.


    • Hi, Rebecca. You’re a weirdo? Good! I like weirdos! I’m not much for parties these days. I can handle crowds and small groups best. When I’m meeting somebody famous or important, then I get a bit tongue-tied out of sheer excitement.


      • Rebecca Douglass

        Well, yes. I prefer not to know until after that I was talking to someone famous 🙂
        Part of my problem with parties is like yours–very low tolerance for noise and chaos. I suspect that has to do with being a little farther along the autism spectrum than average.


      • You know, as John has been growing up, I’ve seen a few behaviors and tendencies in him that I had as a child. Makes me wonder if I’d been tested properly whether or not I might have shown up somewhere on the spectrum.


      • Rebecca Douglass

        Ever since kids in our family started getting diagnosed (mostly Aspergers), we’ve all taken good hard looks at ourselves and seen lots of traits that ring some bells! My sensory sensititivies in particular are probably worse than my son’s.


      • Makes sense. My husband, who is a software engineer in Silicon Valley, has social skills that are only marginally better than John’s.


  3. Rebecca Douglass

    Hey! Silicon Valley? You must be a neighbor! Come up to Pacifica Saturday–I’m doing a book signing at Florey’s Books!


  4. Great article. I like your observation that any public conversation is a a “public speaking” activity. It aligns to what I teach in my FREE online public speaking course at the Public Speaking Skills University. Every speech or presentation should feel like it is a conversation between the speaker and the audience, your audience should feel like they can respond to what you are saying.


  5. Pingback: Workshop on communication | local2global

  6. Pingback: Less Really Might Be More | SoshiTech - Social Media Technology - Soshitech.com

  7. Pingback: The Best Proof of Success | Hopes and Dreams: My Writing and My Sons

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.