Before I get to the real business of this post, allow me a moment to update you on the aftermath of a previous post. Back on February 1, I posted an entry here recapping advice I’d received to work more with my Facebook page to post videos and other media that would potentially draw more eyes to my page. Taking y’all’s advice to heart, I have now established my own YouTube Channel, on which I have posted and will continue to post short videos that offer an insider’s look into the publishing business. So far, I’ve talked about the various steps in the editing process, advance reader’s copies and the role of a literary agent. My intent is to post one video per week, with a maximum length of 4-5 minutes. If you’re inclined to subscribe and tell your friends, I’d be most grateful.
Thus endeth the sales pitch. (Endith?)
Public speaking is a major part of a successful writer’s life. Whether sitting on panels or asking questions from the audience, conducting a seminar or delivering a keynote speech, it’s helpful to master the techniques of delivering interesting information in an entertaining way. I know a number of people who have made major improvements in their speech construction and delivery techniques through Toastmasters International. At the very least, Toastmasters helps those who are fearful of public speaking to wrangle their fears.
While there are countless moving parts in constructing and delivering any kind of speech, there are some inherently destructive practices and habits that can distract from or totally destroy an otherwise viable presentation, and yet are relatively easy to prevent.
Let’s talk about microphones.
Yes, you need one. I don’t understand the common refusal to use a mic when one is available and offered. It seems to be a point of pride among some to declare, “people can hear me without a microphone.” Even when that’s true, a microphone makes you more easily heard. Remember, you’re competing with the air handler, the whispers and cellophane crinkles of everyone in the room. Then, there are the physics of it all. If the room is carpeted and the ceilings are high, the sound pressure just gets lost or absorbed. If the floors are wooden and the walls concrete, the echo muddles your words. That’s why they offered you the mic in the first place.
Lavaliere, stand or handheld? If I am the primary speaker, I vastly prefer a lavaliere mic over the other options, simply because I like to move around while I speak. My second choice is a handheld, for the same reason. If the other options are not available, I’ll make due with a stand or lectern microphone. But even with a microphone, there are significant limitations.
- Positioning. With a lav, I find the best position to clip the microphone is between the 3rd and 4th buttons of my shirt. That’s where they’re designed to be placed, so you don’t have to look down and speak into it. Just project out to the audience as you would if you had no amplification.
- Neatness counts. Okay, this is my personal bugaboo, but I hate the look of the microphone cord trailing from the mic to the battery pack. Tuck that bad boy away so you don’t distract your audience. Here’s a good short video that shows how to do that.
- If you’re doing an interview from a stage in front of a live audience and you have lapels to work with, be sure to mount the lav on the lapel that is closest to the other person.
- Remember that jewelry, name tags or any other objects that might hit against the microphone need to be secured.
- Important safety tip: If you’re miked up with a lav radio mike, be sure it’s turned off until you want it to be turned on. It’s always worth a second check before you go to the bathroom.
- With a handheld mic, remember that you have lost one half of your gesticulating ability. If you’re pointing with it, it can’t do its job.
- Most podium microphones are aggressively directional. When you look left or right–as you should, to keep everyone’s interest and attention–think of the microphone as the center of a ball and socket joint, always remaining the same distance from your mouth, regardless of the direction you’re looking.
- You still have to project and enunciate clearly. Amplified or not, mumbling never works.
About the delivery . . .
Lose the PowerPoint. I see too many presenters of all ilks using PowerPoint more or less as a script. No matter how interesting your topic might be, your audience will stay with you only if your performance is at least as interesting. If I’m ever elected king, an edict shall be passed that limits any PowerPoint slide to a maximum of ten words. But if you must use it, keep a few things in mind:
- Make the slides an active part of the presentation. Make them worth reading. For example, when I give my standard How-to-write seminar, immediately after I emphasize the point that there are no rules in writing, I cue the slide that reads, “But there are some very good suggestions.” I let the audience get the joke, and then we move along.
- Videos work very well as PowerPoints, but it can be tricky getting them to run.
- No matter how many bajillions of times you have done a presentation, always take time to rehearse the slides and the transitions on the actual equipment you will be using.
- Talk to the audience, not to the screen. The image is there, I promise. If you need a cue on where you are, use your computer screen as a TelePrompTer of sorts.
- Buy your own remote clicker and use it to advance your slides, and practice the transitions so you can keep talking even as the slides move.
- Assume catastrophic equipment failure, and have a backup plan to make your presentation without visual aids. It happens more than you’d think, and every time is a character-building experience.
Remember that it’s about the audience. Even if people have not paid to attend your speech or the conference at which your speech is delivered, they are at a minimum paying with their time, and you accordingly owe them a show.
- Don’t poison the well before you begin. This is more prominent among writers who speak than other groups I’ve dealt with. It usually begins with something like, “I don’t do a lot of public speaking, so if I screw up . . .” My thought at this point is always, “Then sit the hell down and don’t waste my time.” If you know ahead of time that you’re going to suck, then do us all a favor and don’t start. Cede your time to someone who’s prepared.
- If the apology falls better into the category of the humble brag, keep that to yourself, as well. If you kill up there, everyone will know and applaud, and if you die up there, they will likewise know yet still applaud.
- Know your subject and be well-rehearsed. Back when I was working my Big Boy Job, I delivered a lot of speeches, most of which were designed to be motivational. Think hundreds of times. And before each one, I always rehearsed the first five minutes and the last five minutes of the speech, usually out loud in the hotel room. Once I got a presentation going, I could maneuver my way through the middle of the speech by feel, but I obsessed about getting the beginning and the end just right.
We writers are communicators, after all. The only difference between writing and speaking is that with the latter, there’s only one draft.
Many of you do more public speaking than I. What have I missed?