Public Speaking and the Writing Process

Lizzy Fox at a public reading in Essex, Vermont in July 2013.

I began acting classes around the same time I started writing poetry—in elementary school.

While I eventually came to terms with the fact that I can’t act to save my life, it has always felt natural for me to read my writing for audiences. (Note that this does not mean I was always good at it. It took years for my hands to stop shaking.)

I have found public speaking an enormously helpful skill in the writing world. By regularly attending open mikes and hosting readings, I connect with other artists, sell my spoken word album, and introduce audiences to my work. I also have an enormously good time.

Some of you may be thinking, that’s great, but who can fit it in? It’s enough to carve out space for the writing process!

Reading aloud is just one more way to express a story. It works in tandem with, not contrary to, writing. In her brilliant guide to crafting poems, Glitter in the Blood, poet Mindy Nettifee recommends reading aloud as a critical component to editing. She says, “What you want is the good feedback loop, when the audience is listening, and you can feel their attention. In this loop, there are moments of resonance and moments when you lose them and you will feel it, and it will tell you what works in your work.”

In order to create this feedback loop, Nettifee posits that writers must read their work well. I couldn’t agree more.

This past Saturday, I hosted a workshop at BookLogix, a self-publishing company in Alpharetta, Georgia, where I’m based. The workshop was titled “Speaking and Presenting for Authors.” I spelled out seven core competencies for public speaking, which are:

  • Enunciation: Speaking clearly so that the audience can hear each letter. Exaggerate the movement of your mouth until it feels over-the-top. Warm up with tongue twisters.
  • Projection: Speaking loudly, from the diaphragm, without shouting. Imagine you’re talking to the back wall.
  • Body Language: Focus on stillness until you have a reason to move. Stand evenly on both feet. Imagine a string pulling up from the crown of your head to the sky. Keep your arms at your sides unless punctuating what you read. There are ways to do this without being stiff. Stretch first.
  • Emotional Communication: Choose a section to read to which you feel intimately connected. What did you feel when you wrote it? Meditate on that emotion before you hit the stage.
  • Eye Contact: For God’s sake, look up from the podium. Memorize your work just enough so that you can casually look up, connect with an audience member or two, and find your place again.
  • Musicality and Rhythm: Practice until the piece flows naturally in your own voice. If you’re unfamiliar with your speaking voice, listen to poets or books on tape; check out TED Talks or the Urbana Poetry Slam on YouTube. Discover what you like and play with it.
  • Practice Makes Progress: You will always make mistakes. Regular practice helps you recover with grace. Look into your local open mike scene and make a habit of attending. Many are free or close to it.

Looking for more direction? I offer one-on-one coaching in speaking skills, writing/editing services, and workshops. Check out my website for bookings.