I know you don’t want to hear it, but it’s true.
It’s no longer enough to be a brilliant writer – to craft characters and worlds, to give ideas foundations and wings. Now, (on top of being her own PR maven and marketing wiz) a writer also has to be a personality – a performer. We need to be not only the brain behind our book, but also the engine behind our sales and promotion.
It’s not an easy task, and for many writers, the toughest part is the public speaking.
There’s good news, though: You can learn to excel at public speaking … and even enjoy it.
Your “voice” is more than your words.
When we writers talk about “voice,” we are most often referring to the elusive quality – the je ne sais quoi – that defines an author’s writing style. However, most successful writers also develop a more literal voice – the voice they use when speaking in front of live audiences.
It’s scary. I know. Most of the writers I know would rather jam slivers of flaming bamboo under their fingernails than speak in front of an audience, but speaking can play a big role in your book’s success. Whether that role is a positive one, or a negative one depends on how you develop and project your presence.
Your presence is how you stand in the world and how you interact with others.
You know a powerful presence when you see one. Whether the person is a teacher in a third grade classroom, a seasoned musician on stage, or a business leader speaking at a press conference, people with presence make lasting impressions. They have the ability to capture our attention, engage our imaginations, and persuade us to see things from their perspective. A person with a powerful presence might be called a storyteller, an orator, or simply a “people person.” She knows how to talk to people, how to make her point, how to connect with her audience in an intimate and moving way.
Do you think you have a powerful presence?
Everyone has an authentic presence – you just have to find it.
I’ve always been deathly afraid of public speaking … until now.
When I signed on to take my friend Cheryl Dolan’s Platinum Presence workshop I had no idea it would deliver such a paradigm shift for me. I knew that speaking could have a positive impact on both my marketing and writing work, but I had never known how to get past my fear of standing at the front of the room. My knees would buckle, my palms would sweat, my voice would drop an octave and fall almost to a whisper. It wasn’t a presence that was going to capture anyone’s attention, let alone their imagination.
What I learned in Cheryl’s class is that developing your presence is less about how you deliver a speech and more about being confident and comfortable in your own skin so that you can be fully and dynamically present for others. I also learned that your success as a presenter is as much about learning to “listen” to the non-verbal language of others as it is about discovering how you can use that language to improve your own communication skills.
How to find your authentic presence:
The first step is figuring out how and when you feel your best. In the workshop, Cheryl had each of us think of a time when we really “nailed it.” She asked us to bring ourselves back to that moment in as much detail as possible – remembering the situation, what we were wearing, how we were interacting, what persona we were projecting, what it felt like to be in the “flow.” When I went through this exercise, I learned I felt best when I:
- Had a very strong knowledge about my subject matter
- Could move around a lot
- Was able to put my audience at ease with a little humor and conversation
- Took a no-drama, lets-get-this-done kind of attitude
- Focused on the outcome (for my audience) rather than my performance
That last bit is a big part of the second step: know your intention. Know clearly what you want to deliver and what you want to get out of any situation, whether it’s an interview, a networking conversation, or a presentation to a crowd. You need to understand what your goal is and also – more importantly – what your audience’s goal is. Then you need to find a way to bring those two things together.
The third step is learning the art and science of skilful communication. That’s not a topic I can tackle in one humble blog post, but what I can tell you is that there are a LOT of fascinating and informative resources covering topics from psychology to neuroscience to kinetics. As Cheryl says, there are always two conversations happening – the verbal and the non-verbal. If the two don’t align, people won’t believe that you are being honest. The insights and knowledge that Cheryl shared with her students touched on the power of eye contact, how to use your hands effectively, how to trigger the happy chemicals in your brain to help calm and center yourself before any interaction or presentation, and so much more.
One of my favorite tips for boosting energy, confidence, and creative juices is bouncing on an exercise ball. I was resistant to this at first, but am now a regular “bouncer” – using it to calm my nerves, clear my head, and unlock my muse. Here’s a brief video of Cheryl talking with Pam Slim about why the bouncing works so well:
This is just the tip of the iceberg, but it’s an iceberg worth exploring further.
I’m so excited about everything I learned with Cheryl, that I could go on and on (and on!), but this blog post is about to hit 1,000 words, and I think I’ve already taken up enough of your time. Let me leave you with this – even if you are one of those people who dreads public speaking with such intensity that you get sick to your stomach just thinking about it, you can learn to be comfortable and confident in front of an audience. Whether you engage someone like Cheryl as a coach, take a workshop like Platinum Presence, or just do some research on your own by reading books and watching other presenters (Google “Ted Talks presentation skills” for a start), give yourself the gift of believing you can overcome your personal presentation demons, and then go out and start figuring out how to whoop their butts.
As I said at the beginning of this post, it’s not enough for writers to write. Today, an author needs to be more than a scribe. An author needs to learn to use her literal voice as well as her literary voice so she can create a strong presence in the minds of her audience.
What do you think? How important are speaking skills to a writer’s success? Do you feel like you have strengths in this area, or do you struggle? Have you taken part in any training or coaching that has helped you? Can you suggest any other resources that might help people understand how to become a more powerful presence?
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of voice and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.