Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Speaking Without Freaking: A Writer’s Guide

By Ann Harth, @Annharth 

Part of The Writer's Life Series

JH: Speaking in public scares a lot of writers, but it’s a useful promotional tool for authors. Ann Harth shares tips on how to speak in public without freaking out.

Ann Harth writes fiction and non-fiction for children and adults. Strong, interesting female characters creep into many of her books, and many arrive with a sense of humor. She taught writing for the Australian College of Journalism for eight years before taking the leap into freelance writing and structural editing work.

Ann has had a number of fiction and non-fiction children’s books published in Australia and the UK and over 130 short stories sold internationally. When not tapping the keys, Ann stuffs a notebook into her pack and searches for remote places to camp, hike or explore.

Take it away Ann...
Ann Harth
Public speaking has been defined as the number one fear in Western society today. Number Two? Death. As one well-known comedian pointed out: This means that at a funeral you'd rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy.  

A writer writes, correct? But in the 21st century, a writer must also network, market and sell. This calls for some comfort in the public speaking arena. If you’re anything like I was when I started out, speaking in front of a group seemed less inviting than stapling my fingers together.

Successful writers will probably have to speak in public at some point. Book signings, launches and author talks can all generate a portion of the income we need to support our writing habits. Accepting these opportunities can make a huge difference to a writer’s career.
The Hardest Part of Speaking in Public

The most difficult step is the first. Years ago, I gave my debut author talk to a group of 20 in a small room. It felt more like I was speaking to an auditorium bursting at the seams. My stomach boiled, my knees shook and I sweated and squirmed, but I got through it. My family said I was great. Others smiled at me, nodding kindly as though I were a child who’d run the fifth-grade race as fast as I could, but still came in last. At least I would have earned a participation certificate.

The best part? I’d done it. The hard part was over. I’d leaped from the cliff and lived to tell the tale. The next time was easier and the time after that easier still. Public speaking still isn’t my favorite pastime, but I do it because it’s important. Now, I even choose to offer workshops because I enjoy helping other writers make their stories shine.

(Here’s more with Prepare for Public Speaking Like a Pro)

But if you are like I was, I’d like to offer some facts and tips that helped slow my pulse and calm my nerves when speaking in front of people. I hope it can help you as well.

Five facts to calm the nerves

1. Your audience wants you to succeed. They have come to hear what you have to say. Your listeners are on your side.

2. Most of your nervousness is not visible to your audience. Even if your body's shaking and your hands are sweating, you probably look cool, calm and collected.

3. You don't have to be perfect, just be yourself. Authenticity is important and laughing at your mistakes can relax an entire room.

4. You are not alone. Remember the number one fear in Western society? Some feel a twinge of nervousness, others are terrified.

5. A few healthy butterflies fluttering around in your stomach can actually make you perform better. They can help you to be more alert and aware.

Tips to reduce public speaking panic

  • Know your subject. Write the best speech / presentation you can but prepare for possible questions. If you can't answer a question, it’s no drama, just point them towards additional resources that may help.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Perform your speech aloud and alone. Some of it will flow smoothly, but you will find those awkward places where you might stumble. Get rid of them.
  • Practice in different settings. The front yard, the hallway, the bathroom, the kitchen. Practice until you are undistracted in any setting. You may not have the luxury of seeing your venue before the presentation, so feel confident that you can give your talk anywhere.
  • Time your practices, and try to speak at an unhurried, steady pace. If you need to adjust your word count to stay in the allotted time, do it.
  • Be sure that you know the first few sentences of your speech by heart. This will get you started. After that the jitters should have settled and you can continue. (The jitters will settle.)
  • Wear something comfortable. The last thing you want to worry about is how you look. You don't want to be wearing a shirt or skirt that needs constant adjusting, and you don't want to worry that your socks are falling down.
  • Think about your audience. Trust them. Like them and they will like you. Offer them an interesting experience while you impart an important message.
  • Before you begin speaking, take a few seconds to make eye contact with your audience. Smile. Set the tone.
  • Begin your talk with a greeting. A simple comment on the traffic, weather, the slippery steps or the difficult parking will put you and your audience at ease.
  • Introduce yourself and explain your purpose. Why are you here? Why did they come? What will have been accomplished by the end of the session?
  • Attract the audience's attention. Personal stories or relevant and fascinating facts will hook your audience.
  • Keep a safety net nearby. Use a written outline or palm cards, but even if you're feeling confident be sure to stay on the right page.

  • Celebrate. Treat yourself to your favorite guilty pleasure and sleep well. Next time will be easier.

Obviously, there is no fix-it-quick pill that will ease your misgivings when speaking in public but it does get easier very time you do it. Embrace every opportunity as a means to an end. Don't allow fear to stand between you and your goals.

Believe me, if I can do it, anyone can.

Bernice Peppercorn’s imagination fills her mind and her notebooks with adventure and intrigue. She sees crimes where there are none and races to the local police station daily to fulfil her civic duty.

When a real robbery is committed in town, Bernice dives into detective mode and stumbles across vital clues that could help find the thieves. No one believes her except Ike, a one-legged fisherman who lives down at the wharf.

Bernice Takes a Plunge is an exciting and humorous adventure for middle grade readers.


  1. Excellent post. As a retired elementary teacher, I always included public speaking opportunities for my students. They get better at it and feel good about themselves. That's a win-win in my book.