Talk confidently about something you love: set a speaking challenge!

I don’t usually make new year’s resolutions, but as 2018 began, something niggled at me.  I was making headway in my dream career as a writer, but I knew I needed to start talking confidently in public about my own work. 

While I’m happy talking at meetings and networking events about the work I do for clients (mainly because that’s not really about me), whenever conversations turn to my personal writing projects I’m usually quick to shift the focus away.  “Oh, that’s enough about me…so what have you been up to?”

It’s all a bit inconvenient really, when I’m planning to publish three very different books this year, ones I’ve worked long and hard on completing.  I decided it would be quite nice if I could sell a few copies, so I’ve asked my web design company to create a dedicated ‘Books’ page on my site.  The logical next step is...actually telling people what these books are about!

With the fantastic Essex Book Festival running throughout March every year, there are always more than a few local opportunities to grab a mic and wax lyrical about whatever you happen to be writing about, in front of a real live audience. 

This year I finally decided to be brave and take one, volunteering to do a ten-minute writers’ café read from ‘Procrastinations’, my soon-to-be-published book of personal blog posts.

The date (Monday 26th March) was set.  Then, I received another email from the event organiser, asking if I’d be willing to come and do a three-minute speed presentation on the evening of International Women’s Day, about anything I liked. 

The event in question had sold out almost immediately, there were some amazing speakers already booked, there was a lot of local publicity surrounding it, and the whole prospect terrified me to my very core.

Remembering my goal to talk publicly about my work wherever possible, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and said yes, I’d be happy to do it.

As the event was in honour of International Women’s Day, I decided I’d talk about a different book; a work in progress called ‘I’d Rather Get a Cat and Save the Planet: Conversations with Child-Free Women’. 

I centred my speech around the idea of celebrating Non-Mother’s Day, in (believe it or not) a light-hearted way that also covered some of the comments women who have chosen not to be mothers tend to hear on a regular basis.  Think “don’t worry, there’s still time/oh, it’s such a shame/so who’s going to wipe your bum when you get old, then?”

Planning the speech took some doing.  You can’t fit very much into three minutes, and everything I wanted to say took some background explanation.  I wanted to describe the reason for writing my book and how it came into being, but also to highlight some of the amazing stories I’d been told by the child-free women I spoke with during the course of my research.  All in just 180 seconds. 

Once I’d finally arrived at my ideal three minutes, I practised, and practised, and practised again, timing myself every time.  Then, when the event itself came round, I approached the stage and looked out into the sea of faces, shaking with nerves. 

I’d rehearsed the speech so often that the words fell automatically from my lips once I started (if you’re planning a speech anytime soon, the trick is to memorise your opening line), and as I made my first attempt at a humorous comment, people actually laughed. 

Better still, when I dared to glance at the audience again I could see heads nodding fervently as I spoke, and when I finished I actually drew a small crowd, who wanted to know more about my book and when it would be available. 

It all felt amazing, and the great thing was that the process of writing and making that speech had compelled me to achieve exactly what I’d hoped: talking clearly and confidently about my personal writing work. 

How to talk about something you love – what I learned:

- Try to refine your subject into a simple paragraph (whether you have a time limit or not!)

- Make it personal and relatable.  Most people love a good story, especially one told with enthusiasm.

- Don’t worry about whether everybody will instantly ‘get’ what you say.  Some people will, and some probably won’t.  Just concentrate on what makes sense to you.

- If you’re making a speech, practise!  Memorise your opening line, and the rest will flow.

Spring is another great time for fresh resolutions!  If you’ve always wanted to start a blog, write a book or even compose a speech…what’s stopping you?  And if you need any help, you know where I am.