Outside of immediate danger, there are not many things that invoke fear and anxiety in people more than public speaking.
In fact, according to the 2016 Chapman University Survey of American Fears, the only “personal fear” ranked higher is that of reptiles.
Even if you enjoy public speaking, nerves can still pervade. Will you communicate your point effectively? Will the audience connect with your message? Will you be standing all alone, forget everything you wanted to say, and have all of your vulnerabilities and insecurities exposed to a world ready to Tweet how dreadful you and your speaking skills are?
No wonder people are as scared of public speaking as they are of snakes!
If these doubts sound familiar, it is likely because you have faced many of them as a writer. We all at some point wonder if our words on the outside match the thoughts on the inside. And will anyone care?No wonder people are as scared of public speaking as they are of snakes! Click To Tweet
Last year I joined Toastmasters International to develop my oratorical skills since presentations are a large part of my full-time job. As my speaking skills slowly improved, I started to notice a direct correlation with my writing – both in motivation and the quality of my work.
While reading and writing are often advised as the keys to honing your blogging skills, following are some lessons from public speaking that can also apply to the writing practice.
Get to the action
I love drafting the beginning of an article or essay. Leads are what come to me first and what get me excited about a particular topic. (Be honest, did you just scroll up to re-read my lead? How did I do?)
It’s the same when I prepare a speech. I get so wrapped up in my introduction that I often receive feedback from my audience that they started to wonder where my talk was going. This is true even when my introduction is entertaining and engaging. Its purpose is always to set up the speech, not to be the speech. A written lead is no different. Hook the reader in, but then move on.
Now when I write, I’m cognizant of my tendency to prolong the set-up and consciously ask myself: “Have I gotten to the point yet?” And I’m honest with myself when the words stop flowing after the lead that perhaps what I thought was a great topic isn’t so insightful or relevant after all (see also: my unfinished drafts folder).
Strive for connection
Until I joined Toastmasters, I thought I was a pro at eye contact. I don’t use notes, I keep my head up and I always look at the audience. But after my first couple of speeches, my evaluators pointed something out to me that I had never realized – my eye contact is fleeting. Instead of holding my gaze with someone, I constantly darted around the room. It was distracting and superficial. After some reflection, I realized I did this because truly locking eyes with someone felt uncomfortable.
In writing – particularly a personal essay – eye contact can be considered your vulnerability, your willingness to share your story. But not just the surface of your story – the deep parts. The parts where you let a reader follow you through a hardship, come out on the other side with you, and share in the benefits of that journey.
As I write, I’ve started to notice when I’m “breaking eye contact.” I catch myself dancing around a personal or challenging feeling or discovery – bringing it up, but not fully exploring it for the reader. To truly connect with our audiences, we have to follow these thoughts. Don’t look down or start a new paragraph because things got real.Don't look down or start a new paragraph just because things got too real. Click To Tweet
Talk about what inspires you.
Choosing a speech topic is a journey in self-reflection. It makes sense that if you enjoy your topic, your speech will be better. You will be more confident, more enthusiastic and more genuine with your audience. It’s no different with writing.
My speaking training has been a place to explore topics I have considered writing about. Every speech requires research, organization and a reason why it should matter to the audience. If I can find all of these elements for a talk, then I know I have found a topic worth covering in my writing.
And the best part is that before you can speak your speech, you actually have to write the words! Public speaking is an excellent way to regularly practice your writing. And once a speech is over, you have likely already written a good portion of your next blog post or essay.
Get out of your comfort zone.
For those ranking public speaking up there with reptiles, spiders and enclosed spaces, this fear is exactly the reason speaking in front of a crowd can be so beneficial. Being pushed out of our comfort zone in one area allows us to tackle the insecurities and second-guessing that can accompany (and hold us back from) our writing goals.
The journalist Roscoe Drummond said: “The mind is a wonderful thing. It starts working the minute you are born, and never stops until you get up to speak in public.” I suppose many of us have felt this way when we sit down to write, ready to dump all of the Pulitzer-prize musings floating in our head onto the computer screen and instead having a staring contest with a blinking cursor.
But each time you get up to speak, you are training your mind muscles to get comfortable in the uncomfortable, to be vulnerable and exposed. And the next time you settle in to write, your mind will remember this. It will allow you to put your fears aside, win your battle with the cursor and put what needs to be said out there into the world.