Public Speaking Tips for Writers by Kate O’Brien | Resources | Developing Your Craft | Essential Guides | Selling Your Book
Kate O'Brien

Kate O'Brien

How to Confidently Triumph when Speaking in Public . . .

For writers who wish to network or explore opportunities to present their work, being able to speak confidently in public is a skill that you won’t regret honing, especially when reading aloud.

My work requires me to be able to speak in public often, and I help others prepare for speaking engagements of their own. I have put together some of my top tips for how to triumph when public speaking.

Know Your Topic

Knowing your topic properly is crucial. Before you begin speaking you should already know what you’re going to say. Some natural improv in the moment is fine, but don’t plan to wing it the entire time. Prep your topic well and make notes. Bullet points are your friend. You should be able to answer questions fluently, and you should have a few examples in your head about your topic so that you can paint a picture when speaking to audiences. Being prepared will help you sound more natural when speaking. If something does surprise you it is easier to remain calm and take control back when you are prepared already. If you are unprepared then a surprise question may throw you off entirely. If you are presenting a piece of writing or reading aloud, remember that you know your work better than anyone, so take a breath and enjoy the chance to share it.

Be Clear

Make sure you understand what you are telling others. This may sound silly, but when we are nervous, we ramble, and when rambling we sound as though we don’t know what we’re talking about. That is not pleasant for anybody, not for you and not for listeners. Don’t dawdle. Be as clear as possible so that listeners can follow what you’re saying. You want to feel like you’re explaining a topic you know very well vs feeling like you’re trying to prove that you know your stuff. Clarity makes the difference. If you understand what you’re talking about, listeners will too.

When sharing a piece of writing you’ve created, enthusiasm is key. Audiences are more likely to embrace your idea when you’re excited about sharing it. Share it as though it is the best idea in the world!

Listen and Slow Down

Listen carefully to any questions you are being asked. Take a breath. Do not rush. You cannot triumph when speaking in public if you are not properly listening to what is being asked of you or if you’re racing through it. When we rush, we stumble. Being a good listener is key because when you listen you are a much more engaging speaker, and you convey that you are confident and in charge of the conversation because you’re at ease. Many people trip themselves up because they rush. Nerves make us speak faster than we realise, so make an effort to slow down and then slow down again. If you think you have slowed down already, do it again.

Avoid Filler

If possible, because it is hard when nervous, avoid using filler words. Try to avoid saying “um,” and “uhh,” or “like,” or “You know?” While we all say these phrases in casual conversations, when presenting or when reading aloud, they can make us sound shaky and nervous. It is best to keep answers to questions short and sweet, and then elaborate when appropriate so that those fuller stories are memorable moments that stand out. Examples are your friends, but they should complement the presentation rather than fill it completely.

Find A Focus Point

When presenting or reading your work aloud, focus on a spot on the wall just beyond the last row of the audience. This gives the impression that you are looking straight ahead and making eye contact with the crowd, but instead you’re looking just beyond them. It is subtle, but effective, as having a focus point on the wall can reduce nerves and can help you stay focused. It is easier to triumph when focusing on a wall per se, instead of getting ruffled if you find looking directly at somebody difficult or perhaps looking out into a crowd of listeners makes you anxious. It is a stage trick, but it works. If you get flustered, having a focus point can help you get back on track. Sharing written work with an audience is a very personal thing, so looking beyond the crowd means you won’t see people’s reactions until later, which can keep nerves at bay.

Create Notes and Practise Alone

Think about what you want to convey and write yourself notes. I like bullet points because I can practise reading them aloud to ensure I feel confident about the subject. You can get a feel for how things sound. You can also get a sense of how long the reading/presentation takes, and the more you speak aloud, the easier it becomes. I find recording myself really helpful. I listen to myself and pinpoint anything I’d like to change or make smoother. Reading aloud and getting used to the sound of your own voice will make it easier when you go to speak in front of a crowd.

Calm Your Nerves

This is hard because public speaking can cause nerves but try to relax. The calmer you are, the easier it is to talk, and the more natural we sound, so do some meditation beforehand or do some breathing exercises, or watch a comfort show like I do. Whatever makes you feel at ease, you should do it before your speaking engagement so that you can go in feeling good, ready to thrive!

For writers who want to sell their work, or move into a space where readings become more regular, public speaking is a skill that you will want under your belt. Practice makes perfect, so keep trying until you triumph! In time it may even become fun, and hopefully more opportunities to share your written work will emerge.

(c) Kate O’Brien

Kate Loves Literature

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About the author

Kate O’Brien is a book doctor, a podcast host, an interviewer of authors, as well as working in the world of editorials and public relations. She believes in the power of the written and spoken word, and loves helping people be the best they can be.
For more information, visit

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