Want to become a better writer? Try speaking.
Speakers, of course, often go about things differently than writers when communicating. However, the more public speaking I do, the more insight I get into my writing. I find more parallels than differences.
In fact, I’m convinced that writers can learn a lot from speaking.
How Public Speaking Can Make You a Better Writer
1. You Practice Engaging Your Audience
Before you think “thank you, Captain Obvious,” think of the “Wonk wonk wonk wonk….” drone of Charles Schulz’ adults in Charlie Brown. That runs neck and neck with a major wardrobe malfunction as the worst fear of every speaker.
Of course, writers aim to engage, too. It’s what drives us. Yet, we sometimes lose sight of that. Schedules, due dates, and word counts obscure our view of our audience.
Speaking can make you a better writer because speakers don’t have the luxury of losing sight of their audience. They know as they speak who is paying attention and who is doodling. It sounds intimidating, but as you write for listeners that will be in the room with you, you visualize them. It’s easy to keep them in mind. You know you don’t want to see them playing with their phones and it comes through in your writing.
2. You get Better at Storytelling
Speaking is all about storytelling. In Talk Like Ted, Carmine Gallon includes “Mastering the Art of Storytelling” as one of the “9 Public speaking secrets of the world’s great minds.” (This is a great book for authors and speakers!) According to Gallon, stories break down walls. They open minds by touching hearts.
I’ve haven’t latched onto this, simply because I’m into storytelling. Whether you’re writing or speaking, storytelling works. There’s no doubt in my mind that speaking can make you a better writer by honing your storytelling skills. In fact, good storytelling drives many of the following points.
3. You Have to Speak with Passion
As Friedrich Nietzsche asked, “Is not life a hundred times too short for us to bore ourselves?” Passion is, in short, what makes our writing or speech interesting. It’s what conveys emotion. Speakers do it with their voice.
Writers do it with that other voice. Public speaking can help writers make sure they don’t edit the passion out of their voice as they perfect their style. Remembering the importance of passion can also help writers choose what to write about. Both speakers and writers fall flat when they chose a topic that doesn’t interest them. Passion is a hard thing to fake.
4. You Perfect Your Hook
Bad in golf, but excellent for writers…
I recently attended a Toastmasters “live coaching event.” Speakers started their prepared speeches and were interrupted by a champion speaker who analyzed what worked and what didn’t work. The process evoked a strong sense of Déjà vu—back to the San Francisco Writer’s conference with the first page critiques.
“Your hook was 30 seconds into your speech…” Sounds familiar, right?
Lance Miller, a former Toastmaster’s world champion, didn’t just focus on grabbing listeners’ attention. Rather, he advised them to help listeners engage emotionally. Which goes back to #1, #2, and #3. Hmmm.
5. You Learn to Speak (or Write) with Confidence
A writer’s audience can’t tell if the author’s fingers shook as they wrote, but they can sense our authority on our topics. Public speaking can make you a better writer by helping you develop that authority. Your confidence will come through your voice.
6. You Have to Be Authentic
Every audience wants a reliable narrator, whether they are in the room with them or not. If readers trust you and like you, they’ll stay with you. If they understand where you’re coming from, your viewpoint is more digestible to them.
Speaking authentically also brings home the writers’ mantra of “Show, Don’t tell.” For instance, my Toastmasters colleagues will quickly catch over-abundance of drama. Emotion is great. Drama, for drama’s sake isn’t. In fact, you’ll hear member suggest a tone of voice implying that the speaker’s emotion is kept under control, but with great effort. Again, you become a better storyteller. Which brings us to #9.
7. You Become Aware of Body language
In speaking, you do show with your body language and hand movements. Speaking drives this home. You won’t tell an audience that you were mad. You’ll show them with your voice, your stance, you facial expression and your gestures. It’s good practice.
8. You Improve Your Organization
Good organization is critical in a speech. Unlike readers, listeners don’t have the luxury of referring back to previous paragraphs or looking at bullet points.
Speaking can make you a better writer. As you prepare for speaking, you become hyper-aware of your talk’s organization. You learn to make sure you audience understands where you’re headed and any turns in the road.
9. Your Become Intentional about the Appropriate Amount and Type of Detail
Authors have the luxury of making their writing as “long as it needs to be.” Within limits, through the way they weave their story, writes can provide a wealth of background and backstories.
This is more challenging for speakers. First, they usually are operating under a time limit. Secondly, due to their length, speeches seldom offer the type of structure that lends itself to much back-story. Speakers need to provide detail that will engage readers in the story or setting, but not so much details that their listeners hear “wonk wonk wonk.”
They have to pick and choose which detail to use, which isn’t easy. Many times, it comes down to the listener’s ability to visualize the situation. Other times, it goes back to engaging. Which details will engage? Add humor? Increase impact? Public speaking can make you a better writer as you become sensitive to what details you include.
10. Strong Endings are Easier
As a non-fiction blogger, myself, a strong conclusion is often the hardest part. Perhaps it’s my internal distaste with ye ole “call to action.”
Somehow, in speaking, crafting a strong ending isn’t as hard. Perhaps it’s the immediacy of my audience, but when I end a speech, I beholden to help them figure out what they can do with any edification they gained by listening to me.
See if speaking can make you a better writer. Try your hand (voice). You can take a public speaking course or join a Toastmasters club. You’ll gain great insight into your writing.