Speak up and be a brave writer

Yesterday I took part in a Dragon’s Den style pitching competition on behalf of The Workshop, the creative agency kind enough to employ me as a copywriter. The event was hosted by Clear Channel and you can see me in action here (3:31:32), if you’re interested.
The point is, the experience was quite nerve-wracking. Not in a terrible way, but in that butterflies-stomach-want-to-vomit kind of a way that you get before speaking in front of lots of people. Mild terror can happen to the best of us.

In fact, mild terror usually happens to us everyone at some point, especially writers who are anxious about reading their work in public or even talking about their writing in front of others.

That’s what this episode is about. I want to encourage you, however daunting it may seem, to stand up, be brave and learn to speak up about your creative work. Like all things, it gets better the more you do it (feel free to snigger childishly).

Watch this episode on Vimeo

  1. Hi Dan – thanks for the comment. You’re absolutely right about spoken word as a great way of getting feedback on your work. It can be invaluable and absolutely worth the worry of performing in public. Sounds like you’re well set for this sort of thing too – it’s certainly a good idea to practice a few basic techniques to help slow down and control your delivery. Good stuff.

  2. For me spoken word things are the very best bit about being a writer. It’s the only time you get an immediate reaction form your readers. On twitter anyone can say “ooh I love your work” and mwah-mwah you, but when you’re standing in front of them reading you can see the reaction in people’s eyes, and the rare times that reaction isn’t glazed “what on earth is this?” it means more than all the comments or reviews in the world. It’s also a fantastic way for you to gauge as a writer whether something works. A couple of times I’ve had short stories where I was really proud of the ending but when I came to practise it for a spoken word do, I just couldn’t get the words to come out as anything but trite, so I rewrote and teh result was way better.
    I’m going to be doing a column for December’s http://www.wordswithjam.co.uk on practical tips for public speaking/spoken word for writers.

    I’m lucky to be married to a musician and be part of a writers’ collective with a professional actress and model who have both been given immensely helpful advice on things like posture and breathing and what to do with that spare hand and so on. The technical nuts and bolts like that are really important – more so than “how to avoid nerves” advice. Everyone gets nervous. Even if you do it all the time and love it. The important thing is that you have the technique under your belt.

    Er, and if we’re sharing videos

  3. I spoke last month at an event during Sheffield’s Off The Shelf festival of reading and writing. It’s not something I’ve done very often. I found it a lot more scary than my usual thing of singing and playing guitar in front of people. It went OK though, and I’d like to try doing spoken word again sometime.
    When I hear people read too quickly it tends to make me stop listening. So I took a lot of care to pace it gently, and control my breathing. That seems to me the really important thing.

    1. Pete! Welcome!
      It’s definitely a scary experience and totally different to singing and playing (the former in my case, for a while). And reading too quickly is indeed a very common trap that newbiw performers fall into, mainly induced by panic!

  4. I recently had the honour of presenting a workshop on critiquing (thanks Iain for the chance to write that critiquing article because it helped to form the basis for the workshop) and being on a panel regarding publishing for a newly launched local writers festival. And earlier this year was interviewed on American radio by Cyrus Webb (what an absolutely lovely guy!)
    I remain incredibly grateful to the amazing humanities teachers I had during the final three years at high school who really pushed spoken forms of communication, as much as they did written. They were loathed with a passion by most of the students (and yes I was terrified) but I learnt so much from those experiences, which I still carry with me today (just simple forms of speaking and lowering the tone of your voice at the end of the sentence) I also took debating and entered public speaking competition at their encouragement and performed a monologue I wrote as part of my Year 12 portfolio of writing. In my first year of Uni I was in the Great Psychology Debate and experienced first hand the power and rush of making people laugh. It’s something I’d love to do again.

    All have stood me in great stead to get up and talk now. I always joke there is a reason I write (because I hate having to speak off the cuff) but I’m finding, mediums such as audioBoo and the hashtag #spokensunday have been great places to get a feel for the spoken art form and getting over the cringe of the sound of your own voice. I particularly like audioBoo just for the ability to ‘chat’ – to convert thoughts into spoken word, rather than written words.

    And if you’re not nervous… you’re in the wrong time, place and space. It’s the adrenalin kick that keeps you from being a monotone bore!

    1. I can completely relate. My sixth form general studies classes were really interactive, frequently forcing us to write and perform stuff to each other. I thought it was normal, but it turns out that many schools didn’t take that approach!
      I’ve always been grateful for how much that prepared me for, well, showing off in public.

  5. Good topic, Iain: write about speaking and speak about writing.
    Public speaking can be great and draw loads of good positive attention to you – but the downside is, if done badly, it can have the reverse effect, lower your image and turn people away. It should be seen as part of your image building; All too often I’ve seen ‘have a go’ people get up and speak and you can see they’re thinking, ‘oh well, if I make a fool of myself, that’s the worst that can happen’. Not so.

    I’ve done quite a few presentations after having some training and yes, it can be immensely daunting, even to the most confident. I can’t say I’m brilliant but I do know the only way I could manage was to practice, practice, practice. I spent day after day before a presentation talking aloud and miming the whole thing through. Imagine the crowd looking at you, assessing your every move (yes, often more than what you’re actually saying!)

    One great tip: try speaking aloud in practice with your hands facing back from in front of your ears, facing into a corner of a wall. The benefit of this is that it gets you used to speaking in a strange space and hearing your voice come out differently – which it does when speaking into a mike.

    Hope this helps – carry on speaking everyone!

    1. It’s good to practice you’re absolutely right and to be as prepared as possible before you perform your work. That said, if it doesn’t go to plan, it’s important to not get too disheartened and to give it another go. Everyone has a stinker from time to time.
      That tip about speaking in a strange space is a good one. It can be quite odd to hear yourself talk in public, especially if there’s a microphone. Takes some getting used to!

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