When I was back in Wales a few weeks ago, and had the pleasure of catching up with friends at the Bangor Cellar Writing Group, James Phillips, one of the talented members of the group, gave us a talk on public speaking, using his experience more from being a musician and performer but also taking elements from having spent many years working as a teacher in the classroom.
I found this so useful because one of the things we as writers face, especially if we have success, is having to move from behind the computer screen to standing centre stage. I believe the foundations of this can be built by belonging to a writing group. I remember the first time I had something to read out but being so shy (me some might say? Shy?) but I think there are two elements to this fear. First that it means sharing work and we all think it’s pants! And that we have to stand in front of people to do it. But I soon got over that because at the end of the day, this is your work — and you know how you want it to sound. The more I did it, the easier it became. Trust me. By the time I started to have short stories accepted and published, I was able to conquer the next hurdle and stand in front of a small audience, with others thankfully, and read.
The biggie came when my novel was out. But by then I had also had to stand in front of children in the classroom to run workshops, and at publisher events I was invited to and hosted, so it was far less daunting. But it still meant I had the spotlight just on me. I had to stand in front of an audience for an hour and read in an African American accent and answer questions. I was thinking oh my God! But actually afterwards I realised I had enjoyed it and have done it a few times since. I have also been on the radio a few times too and it really does get easier!
We all think we want to hide and that’s why we write and don’t perform, but actually, whether it’s in front of a small group like Canvey Writers or a large audience at the Hay Festival, writers do need to learn how to speak and read in public. So here are a few basic pointers:
- Prepare (this is key): practise it!
- Use your diaphragm for volume, don’t shout
- Read slower than you think you can, so when you speed up at the pacey bits, you are still reading slowly and clearly
- Alliterate — don’t mumble: focus on the vowel sounds
- Characterisation: you know how you want your characters to sound, so capture their voice
- Stand up
- Make eye contact when you speak (not for too long or you can make people feel awkward!) but draw them in as if only you and them are having the conversation
- Hold your book or paper up in front of you when you read so you speak outwards and do not mumble down into the piece of paper
- Don’t worry about nerves, we all feel it but the more you do it (and the more you prepare) the easier it gets and some nerves is good
- And above all, enjoy it!
Breathe from the abdomen – Relax the throat – Read slowly – Look up and smile
Thanks to James for such a great talk last month and for sharing your handouts. I passed them onto the Canvey Writers which was particularly pertinent as we had a whole evening given over to manuscript readings and many of these writers are new to it, so a great lesson to start us off. I wish more writing groups embraced this aspect. There’s more about being a writer than just learning to write.
And what a talented bunch they all are; it was a wonderful evening. Everyone stood to read and took on board what had been said.
And as a final ending to this post one of our writers: Fiona, the writer who does have an agent, announced that she has just signed a 2-book deal for her psychological/crime thrillers with a HUGE publisher and rights have been sold worldwide… now that deserves champers! I think cake at the next meeting for sure! Amazing. While this was already in the pipeline and can not be attributed to Canvey Writers we are claiming it as a our first success… and what a success that one is! FANTASTIC, well done Fiona. She will be on this blog and charting her journey with us so I think this will be interesting to all.
Dreams come true if you believe. And work hard.
Have a great Tuesday!