Speaking Tips for the Terrified Writer

When a good writer is great at public speaking sales can often increase. But when a terrified writer bombs on the stage, sales can actually decrease. Audiences expect more than confidence, passion, and knowledge from the person behind a microphone. The speaker must also entertain.

Before you cancel all of your speaking engagements, consider these tips to help you make a better public impression.

In my last speaking post, I talked about what to wear to help you feel more confident. This time let’s talk what to wear to appear more professional.

Prepare for battery pack. If you’re given the choice of a wireless microphone or a stationary mike, take the wireless. Moving around on stage will make you appear more confident and entertaining. But keep in mind that you’ll have to clip the battery pack somewhere. Just by adding a belt to your outfit, you will eliminate those worries. Wear a shirt or blouse that can untuck enough to thread the cord. Hiding the mic cord will keep it from falling over your shoulder and creating a distraction while you speak.

Legs aren’t my best asset so I add sexy shoes.

Nothing revealing. Redirecting the focus from your message to your assets is asking to have said assets judged. Consider what body parts will be exposed because if you’re boring considering your exposed body parts is exactly what your audience is doing. Remember if you’re elevated above your audience, your legs will show – are they killer? If not, don’t parade them. Wear pants or a longer skirt.

Great for a night out, but earrings and bare shoulder would only work if I was giving a brief acceptance speech for winning some wonderful writer award.

Avoid distracting garments or jewelry pieces. If your jacket bugs you, it bugs your audience. Either button a button to hold your jacket closed or take it off if you can’t leave it alone. Jewelry shouldn’t make noise when you move. Some earrings interfere with an over-the-ear mic and cause a rustling sound or that shrill feedback. Large, flat gold or silver pieces on necklaces can catch the light and send a blinding glare back to your audience.

Next time we’ll talk about how even a beginner can add a satisfying element of entertainment to their speech.

Loved hearing about all of the wardrobe malfunctions last time. Tell me what public speakers do that can irritate you.

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Developing Characters for a Middle Reader Book

We’ll go back to our public speaking questions in a couple of weeks. Today, I want to introduce you to YA author Cheryl Martin and her ability to craft strong characters.

As I said before, flat characters leap from the page when they are infused with bits and pieces of the writer’s past experiences. But how does a writer do that? Whether you’re writing for adults or children, you’re characters will take on a deeper dimension if you apply Cheryl’s tips.

Thanks for stopping by, Cheryl. Tell us how you developed a whole cast of memorable characters in your new release PINEAPPLES IN PERIL.

Author Cheryl Martin

Do you recall what it was like to be 10-16 years old? What kinds of things made you excited, angry, challenged or confused? How did you relate to siblings and parents? 

These are the questions I consider when developing characters for The Hawaiian Island Detective Club. It’s sometimes hard to think back to those days (oh so long ago!) but there are always memories that stand out. I use them to deepen my characters’ personalities. 

When I can’t come up with just the right attribute, I take a look at my own kids—they never fail to give me ideas. Although grown, they’re still siblings with all the normal frivolity, angst and annoying behaviors. Recollections from their younger years? Oh my! 

Cheryl’s kids and her inspiration.

As a kid, what kind of trouble did you get into, and how did you worm your way out? What were your thoughts and reactions, and did you blame someone else for your misdeeds? Ahh, yes, the memories flood your mind. 

Now it’s time to give voice to the characters. Choosing words can be challenging, as they’re not adults, yet not little kids either. Does my ten-year-old sound six-years-old, or the young teen too mature? 

Combine the personalities with intriguing scenarios and interesting settings, and—VOILA!—a unique and entertaining Middle Reader book.

Check out the adorable characters in Cheryl’s newly released book PINEAPPLES IN PERIL or visit her website cherlylinnmartin.com

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Dress for Speaking Success

The other day I was asked to join a couple of author friends at a speaking gig in East Texas. My first concern should have been what to say? But I worried more about what to wear? Call me shallow, but the reality is: Fifty-five percent of communication is accomplished by our appearance. I knew speaking at an afternoon tea was an opportunity to promote my books and the various workshops I offer. Winning the trust of these ladies was my goal. To captivate my audience, I needed more than quality verbal content. I needed pleasing non-verbal visuals. Here are the things I took into consideration when choosing my wardrobe:

Speakers get thrown onto all kinds of stages. Stacked chairs were a first for me.

Audience Assessment – Who was I talking to? I knew I would be speaking to older, conservative women who love any excuse to break out the fine china. Most likely their once-a-month meeting was a chance for them to “gussie up” a bit. I wanted my audience to know that I respected them enough to dress up for them. I wore heels … and my feet still haven’t forgiven me.

Comfort – Which brings us to comfort. Shoes should be comfortable. More than likely I would be standing for the presentation. I needed shoes that could take me to the stage without noise, allow me to shift my weight, and facilitate moving about the stage without tripping. A couple of years ago, I wore a pair of new heels on a highly waxed wooden floor and nearly landed on my backside. Memorable, but not my most graceful entry. I do like to wear a bit of a heel because the elevation straightens my spine and makes me feel taller and more confident. Feeling confident allows me to forget about me and authentically concentrate on the message.

Color affects my mood and a dynamic color sets an energetic and positive tone for the audience. Rich greens or vibrant blues pop against almost any backdrop and help your body stand out. I  don’t have to be a flashing neon sign, but I don’t want to revert to black because it makes me look thinner. If the stage is dark, I run the risk of my body disappearing. You may think that is a good thing. But if your body goes away, this leaves only your face to transmit non-verbal clues. From a distance, the audience would miss 55% of my communication. As an aside, blue is always a good choice for the harsh lighting of a TV studio.

Smile – Finally, the most important thing to wear is a confident smile on my face.
We’ll talk more about what to wear and what not to wear. I’d be interested in hearing about your public speaking wardrobe malfunctions.

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Setting + Costumes = Stronger Characters

In theater, setting and costumes help the audience visualize the characters. There’s an art to choosing the perfect furniture piece or costume color. People who are good at dressing a show get paid a lot.

Writers can use the same stage tricks of setting and costuming to help readers “see” a character as well. In this passage from MOTHER OF PEARL graciously shared by debut author Kellie Coates Gilbert, notice how she “dressed” this scene with carefully chosen descriptions of the office and the wardrobe of lawyer Madeline Crane. She decorated the office set with sweeping draperies and a white couch instead of wood blinds and leather. She dressed Madeline in pink ruffles and a flowing skirt instead of a stiff gray suit. Setting and costuming combine to create a soft, feminine three-dimensional character in a hard, male world. Read this excerpt and see what you think … better yet, buy the book and learn:

Although it seems much longer, it’s only been less than a half hour since I’d parked and wandered through the front doors of Crane Law Offices, a small building tucked nearly out of sight on the banks of the Boise River.

You can tell the office belongs to a woman. The waiting area looks like something out of a Georgian mansion, with its sweeping draperies and claw-footed furnishings. Not exactly my taste, and certainly a departure from what you see in most law offices.

I stand and wander to the wall opposite the windows. Ornate frames in various sizes encase press releases and newspaper clippings. Letting my eyes wander, I examine a news article with the headline: Wrongful Death Lawsuit Nets Record Damage Award. I remember then, seeing a news segment featuring a bereaved couple who’d told how no amount of money could recompense them for the loss of their baby. Prescription error, if I recall correctly.

“Ms. Crane can see you now.”

The receptionist’s voice startles me. I thank her, gather my jacket and purse, then follow the gray-haired woman down a hall lined with ornate frames. The internet research I’d done was right on. Michael Warren might be a winning coach, but this lady has quarterbacked more than a few victories herself.

Madeline Crane looks very little like the photo on her website. I recognize the attractive blonde woman, but she’s considerably more petite than depicted in the snapshots. Unlike what I picture in my head when I imagine a strong-minded successful woman attorney, the lady in front of me wears a flowing black skirt topped with a ruffled light pink blouse and stiletto heels decorated with tiny bows. Frankly, this forty-something gal looks like she just stepped off the set of a Designing Women episode.

As soon as we’re introduced, she extends her hand. Her shake is surprisingly firm.

“Thank you for seeing me on such short notice, Ms. Crane.”

“Please, call me Maddy.” She leads me to a white sofa against the opposite wall, sitting next to me like we’d been lifelong friends. “Alice, get us some tea, would you dear? Oh, and some of those little chocolate éclairs I brought back from Seattle.”

Author Kellie Coates Gilbert

A former legal investigator and trial paralegal, Kellie Coates Gilbert writes with a sympathetic, intimate knowledge of how people react under pressure.  Her stories are about messy lives, and eternal hope.

Kellie’s upcoming novel, MOTHER OF PEARL, Abingdon Press Sept 2012, tells the emotionally compelling story of a high school counselor who discovers her own teenage daughter had an inappropriate relationship with the football coach . . . and how she risks everything to bring him to justice.

For more information, go to http://www.kelliecoatesgilbert.com

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3 Ways to Build a Speaking Platform

As a speaking/acting coach, writers often ask me, “How do I build a speaking platform?”

There’s no magic answer to this question, but here are some things to consider. 

Some people speak so they can write books. Others write books so they can speak. Which one are you? Either way, writers must make the most of every speaking opportunity. Why? Because building a speaking platform depends upon how well you speak.

Fear of public speaking ranks number one in the minds of most Americans. Many of us would rather have a root canal than give a 10 minute speech. Writers, in particular, are usually more comfortable behind a computer screen than on a TV screen or stage.

If you’re publisher is pushing you to get out there, or you want to expand your sphere of influence, then these speaking tips are for you.

  1. GET HELP. Learn to speak and speak well. Speaking platforms are built by word of mouth. Do a good job speaking at a small event like a church group or book club and      you’ll make connections that will get you invited to other events. Do a poor job of speaking and end your speaking career. Take speech classes, hire a speech coach, or ask your local high school speech teacher to tutor you. If you don’t have access to professional help, video yourself. Watch for irritating mannerisms like saying “uh, uh, uh” or putting your hair behind your ear.
  2. TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU KNOW. If you’re passionate about something, it’s easier to communicate authentically to your audience.
  3. PRACTICE. If you’re really new to the speaking podium, write your speech out word for word. Eliminate repetitive phrases. Make sure you have a point. Find a good      joke, illustration, or story to support your point. Then print out your speech. Cut it up and paste the pieces onto numbered 3×5 notecards. Read your script over and over to yourself and out loud (I’m not saying memorize but rather familiarize). Practice in front of the mirror. You’ll be amazed at how much more comfortable you’ll feel in front of an audience if you’ve prepared. My college speech professor said, “If you’ve prepared, then you’ve earned the right to speak.”

Building a speaking platform is like learning to dance…you must learn the steps before you can waltz around the room.

SixMinutes is a great public speaking blog I suggest you follow. Here’s a sample of the high quality information they offer.

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Life of Pi

Loved this book.
Can’t wait for the movie.

I am so excited to learn that 20th Century Fox is making one of my favorite books, LIFE OF PI into a movie. Yann Martel’s adventure is the tale of a young boy cast adrift with a tiger. What an impossible premise. What an incredible, magical reading ride.

Editors are often leary of impossible premises. I had an editor tell me once that the pub board loved one of my stories, but they just couldn’t believe the premise. Funny thing is, I took the story idea from newspaper headlines, it wasn’t even that impossible. Go figure.

Some of the most successful stories out there are created from the combination of impossible premises. For example, my friend and author Leanna Ellis combines Amish and Vampires to create her Plain Fear Series. An impossible fantastical, paranormal premise that sweeps readers into an incredible story.

Check out all of Leann’as books at:

In the new book I’m working, I’m taking a risk. I’m lacing together two unlikely historical events (think Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer crazy) to create an even more impossible premise and I’m having so much FUN. Can’t wait for you to read it.

Do you have an impossible story in you? Take a risk and write it. It may just be the next best selling Life of Pi.

Life of Pi Movie Trailer

P.S. Leanna Ellis has generously agreed to give away one copy of her new book Forbidden that comes out Wednesday. Leave a comment for a chance to win.

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3 Habits of Highly Creative People

Stephen Covey’sTHE 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE encouraged readers to set priorities, take the initiative, and to seek win-win relationships. But in his 2004 follow-up book, THE 8th HABIT he says to be successful you must “find your voice and inspire others to find theirs.”

As a writer and actor, I think it is very important to find your voice. But where does that creativity come from? I’m not completely sure. When my creativity dries up, here are three things I do to refill the tank:

1. Read. Nothing like getting lost in a good story to stir up the imaginative juices. Read what you like. Read what you don’t like. Read fiction. Read the newspaper. Read blogs. Read. Let the flow of words and the varied structuring of sentences stimulate your own neurological pathways.

Don’t you wonder what they’re thinking?

2. Observe people. Nothing like spending the day with a couple of 5-year-olds to help you see the world in a whole new way. Watch their body movements, their inability to concentrate for long periods of time, their wonder at the world. Or, spend the day with an elderly person. Listen to their stories, their struggles, their victories. Study the creases in their skin, the effort to rise from a chair, and their need to grasp stationary objects for support.

3. Daydream.Nothing like spending a few hours in nature. Something about a limitless sky, a breeze rippling a pond, or the smell of wild grasses can awaken the senses numbed by the stress of life.

My mother taking time to enjoy a beautiful morning.
She died of breast cancer later that week.

What inspires your creativity?

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