Public Speaking for Women Writers: Five Mental Shifts to Build Your Confidence

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Betsy Fasbinder

Written by Betsy Graziani Fasbinder

It’s heartbreaking when I hear a writer—usually a female writer—say that she doesn’t want to publish or promote her book because it might involve public speaking.

Let’s face it, if you want your book to be read by more than your ten best friends and your mother, you’ll have to promote it, not only by writing articles and blog posts, but also at live events, media interviews, and podcasts.  That’s where your skills as a speaker come in.

I suffered paralyzing stage fright for decades. The idea of an “audience” horrified me. If you’d told me at age 30 that I would eventually be paid to teach and coach people to overcome their fear to become effective public speakers, I’d have told you that you were plumb crazy.

But that is exactly what happened.

I am a presentation skills coach working with hundreds of clients in Fortune 500 companies all across the country who felt just as reluctant to speak as I once did. I especially love coaching women. With a few skills and a couple of mental shifts, most women are amazed at how much more confident, and at ease they can appear when they’re addressing a group.

Mental Shift 1: Effective public speaking is a skill, not a gift.

It’s important to know that skilled public speaking is a set of learnable skills rather than a “gift” of charisma and charm.  Just like with writing, some speakers start more naturally skilled than others. But both good writing and effective speaking can be learned.  Whether you attend a professional training or simply join a group like Toastmasters (Toastmasters.org) you can learn, practice, and master public speaking. I think of it as life-long learning, just as it is with my writing.

Mental Shift 2: Pictures don’t lie.

Most women have a harsh inner critic. Only by recording yourself can you get an objective view of your skills. When women watch or listen to a recording of themselves in my courses, they are often pleasantly surprised. “Oh, it’s not as bad as I thought,” they often say.

A recording can also reveal some small, distracting behaviors you aren’t at all aware of. These are usually gestures, stance, fidgets, non-words (um, uh, y’know, like, etc.). Once you see them, you can edit them, just as you do misspellings or verb tense disagreement caught by proofing your written work.

Mental Shift 3.  Your writing has already taught you some of the most important speaking skills.

When we’re nervous, we tend to chatter. Flooding listeners with tons of words puts them into a passive posture and gives the impression that the speaker is scattered. Pausing, breathing, and letting listeners absorb what has been said is one of the most powerful techniques you can use to pique interest and involvement.

Think of writing a book without any punctuation. Paper is expensive, yet publishers continue to print leaving white space on the page. Why? White space allows readers to absorb what they’ve read and prepare for the next bit of writing.  The same is true for speaking. Silence is your white space. Silence invites listeners into your story. Pausing allows you to breathe, think, and reduce those non-words. Pausing makes you appear (and feel) composed, and credible.

Mental Shift 4:  Take Up Some Room!

When a guy sits down on an empty park bench, where does he sit? How does he sit?  In the middle, right? Spread out and comfortable, right? Women tend to tuck themselves into a small corner of the bench.  As women, our culture teaches us not to be “too big.” When they’re speaking, I see women make themselves smaller. They scrunch their shoulders, clasp their hands, plant their feet tightly together, and tense their muscles. They may speak too softly or in a “little girl” voice. This is true of even powerful, brilliant women!

To all women writers, all of us, I say, take up some room. Relax and open your body. Gesture big, from the shoulders. Move around; take up some territory. Use the womanly voice you use when you’re getting your teenager to do his homework.  Being feminine is fine, but be womanly, not girly.  This confidence will inspire, influence, and encourage people to recommend you and your writing.

Mental Shift 5: Use eye contact to shrink the audience down to size.         

What people want from a writer during a presentation is to meet the person behind the pages. This doesn’t mean your “fancy orator” persona. This means your natural, conversational self, including your flaws and foibles and your sense of humor. This is the you that speaks comfortably with friends, empowers your daughter to sell Girl Scout Cookies. You are already an effective speaker. You just don’t know it. You just have to bring that powerful woman to the podium. But how?

The answer is eye contact. To this day, I don’t make speeches. I have a series of one-on-one conversations with each person in the room—whether it’s five or 500 people. I think of having intimate connections with one person at a time. I make eye contact with each person and talk only to her for a whole sentence or two. Thinking of speaking as a series of personal conversations rather than a performance can drastically reduce your nerves and build connections with your listeners.

A fear of public speaking should never be allowed to keep any writer—any person—from doing anything she wants to do.  My own book launch day was one of the most satisfying and meaningful days of my life. I’m only glad that I had learned the skills that let me feel confident and to enjoy the day. I want that for all of you.

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Betsy Graziani Fasbinder is an award-winning writer, ghostwriter and has published numerous articles. Her debut novel is, Fire & Water, a story of art, madness, and passion, published by She Writes Press. She has been a professional presentation skills coach since 1998, empowering writers, artists, technology professionals, and business leaders to be their best natural selves in front of groups.  For more information or to contact Betsy, go to www.betsygrazianifasbinder.com.

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