Years ago, I faced one of my biggest fears: speaking in front of a pretty hefty crowd.
Hundreds stared at me head-on, while I death gripped my security blanket that was the podium.
A physical reaction took hold. My hands got clammy. My body temperature went up. That indescribable twinge of fear hit my gut. I felt scared, judged, and exposed.
And no matter how many times I’ve done it since, I have the same visceral response.
Hitting the publish button on your latest written piece can feel this way, too. You’re putting your voice out into the world. And while your audience can’t look you in the eye, they can laser in on your every word. Sometimes, this feels more vulnerable.
I’ve spoken to several crowds over the years, and watched my share of speakers. Because of this, I’ve noticed an accidental — but perhaps subconsciously calculated — shift.
I apply many of the speaking best practices I know directly to my writing. Cadence, tone, and presence now are natural considerations. Here’s what else I’ve learned.
Defining your end goal is the first priority.
The key to any great speech — and piece of writing — is having a well-defined purpose. You must know your end goal.
Those most successful tend to think in terms of generosity. That means putting your audience first.
Consider the action item you want your crowd to take home. What do you want them to do after they leave? What information or feeling should they walk away with?
Once defined, outline the steps you can take along the way to build on that delivery.
The best way to sell your audience on you is by sharing memorable information that sticks with them well beyond the stage or page view.
Use storytelling to connect with your audience.
Heads are spinning in the media and marketing worlds at the overuse of “storytelling.” It’s just another tired hype term, they say.
But storytelling is so much more than a buzzword. Stories elicit emotion, drive human behavior, and make ideas stick. It’s how we all connect.
To be a better speaker, you should listen to those already successful, and put into practice what you’ve learned. To better captivate an audience as a writer, the advice is the same.
Read and write often. Don’t ignore the fabric of a well-spoken narrative. Somewhere in between, you’ll find your unique voice.
To deepen your skills, seek opportunities where you can naturally paint a picture with your words, speak genuinely from your experiences, or use an emotional story arc.
Let your personality shine through.
An important element of great storytelling is relatability. The best way to relate to your audience is to show the best version of your authentic self.
You want to earn their attention and be viewed as an expert — but without being fake. We all can sense when someone isn’t being genuine, and it’s usually a massive turnoff.
Authenticity and honesty, on the other hand, drives respect.
So don’t be afraid to show some of the quirky aspects of your personality. It’s what sets you apart from everyone else.
If that’s a step outside of your comfort zone, focus on speaking conversationally, and be willing to say what you don’t know. Audiences crave intimacy. Sometimes, the best way to draw people in is through real talk.
We all have our own style we tend to lean on. But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to write — especially if you have a diverse audience.
Sometimes, we have to be fluid and change our approach.
Take ample time to get to know your audience, and put yourself in their shoes. Then, focus on delivering information in a way they’ll appreciate the most.
If things go awry — and sometimes they do — be ready for your next step. A great speaker always has a contingency plan for audience curveballs (read: tough questions, hecklers).
As a writer, you should always be prepared for the same. The bonus for us is we have the benefit of gathering ourselves behind the scenes to formulate an appropriate and well-timed response.
Listen to feedback. Take with a grain of salt.
Naysayers. Who needs ’em, amirite?
Sad to say it, but we all do — to a point. I never thought I’d utter the words, but I’m thankful for my biggest critics (even the not-so-pleasant ones).
They may not always be fair, but critics do offer us a valuable opportunity to step back and see what we can improve. The key is learning how to deconstruct negative feedback so we can use it to fuel our success.
We’re all human, which means we won’t get it right every time. Luckily, passion and personality upstage perfection any day of the week.
Avoid the death spiral.
Some say writing is an exercise in torture, but that doesn’t mean you should torture your audience.
So take a breath already.
One of the most widespread tips for speakers is to speak slowly and pause often. It makes it easier for your audience to understand you, and can make you appear more thoughtful and confident.
You can replicate these sort of voice modulations in writing, too.
Break up those long sentences and block paragraphs to make it easy for readers to stay with you. Use sections to help manage the flow.
Fake it till you make it.
Who am I to be doing this?
It’s a question a lot of us — women in particular — ask ourselves, when put in the authoritative position of sharing information with an audience.
So many times, I put myself under the proverbial interrogation light. The heat is turned up, and I feel myself slipping into the role of actor. But let’s call it what it is: a self-esteem roadblock.
You too may feel you have to “fake it” in order to charge ahead and reach some certain goal. But the jig is up. If you’re already doing it, you’re already “making it.”
You’re no imposter, so don’t let your nerves unseat your confidence.