Writers are the Best Speakers

When I was a little sprout, I joined a homeschool public speaking group.  I went every week, did all the assignments, and did my best to speak in public, as the class seemed to demand.  This was about three years before I began writing seriously, and while I had noodled around with fiction a couple times, it had never gone anywhere for me.  I was much more of a reader than a writer.

It showed.  I wrote essays and read them in class, calling it public speaking.  I wanted to be funny, but the speeches turned out boring.  I wanted to be enthusiastic, but the script never sounded as good as it did when I read it over.  I wasn’t a bad speaker, all in all, and I learned through the class, but I certainly wasn’t a good speaker.

Fast forward to this year, approximately five years later.  I’ve written seven novels.  This post is my 665th on this blog.  Whether fiction or nonfiction, I write a lot.  I’m sure you’ve realized that.  This year, I also took a public speaking class, because I’m interested in becoming competent in that area.  I can write for an audience, but I also want to speak to an audience— having that skill is important to me.  So I took the class.

I quickly discovered I was much better than I had been five years ago.  I’m certainly not perfect, but speaking comes almost naturally these days.  Stories flow easily.  When I write a speech, I can hear myself speaking it.  It doesn’t feel the same as something I’d publish here, or hand in as an essay.  Writing, I’ve found, doesn’t just help your writing.  It doesn’t just help your reading.  It helps everything you do that involves words.

Another quirk I’ve developed with public speaking: I tend not to script myself.  I speak the same way I write, in general: without notes, without a written outline, just an list in my head of what I want to accomplish.  And it works, most of the time.  Is it perfect?  Goodness, no.  But it’s enthusiastic.  It’s funny.  It’s fun for me to do, and people think I’ve memorized my entire speech and can spout it off without a hitch— that’s not the case at all.  I have no idea what I’m doing, but because that’s how I write most of the time, it turns out well.

Another thing I recently discovered is the Moth podcast.  It’s a radio program consisting of regular people telling stories from their experience, without notes, without memorizing, in front of a live audience.  They practice beforehand a couple times with directors, I’m pretty sure, but other than that, they have no editing or scripting to do.  Normal tales from everyday life, sometimes stranger than fiction, but always entertaining.

After each story, the program’s anchor gives a brief bio for the speaker.  This person is an engineer.  This person is a social worker.  This person is a writer— actually, wait, about a third of the people I’ve heard speak have published books, newspaper columns, or other writerly gigs.  Most of the anchors I’ve heard for different radio hours are writers as well.  It’s pretty amazing, actually, but one thing never fails: if the speaker is a writer, their story is good.  No, it’s amazing.  It’s hilarious.  It’s touching.  It’s not a fluke.  Oh, of course the guy who writes comics for a living is a funny speaker— well, yes.  But the same is true for all the writers.  They know how to tell stories, whether they can edit later or not.  They know how words work.

It’s nice to know this before going into any sort of public speaking thing.  You’re a writer, so you automatically have an edge.  You still need to learn a couple things, sure, but you’ve got the ability to create with words— you already know the fundamentals of audience reaction and getting across a point.  You have a head start from the very beginning.

And if you don’t write enough, or if you’re more of a speaker than a writer, start writing.  What should you write?  Whatever you like.  Start writing yourself speeches.  Start writing essays.  Write fiction, or a memoir, or a fictional memoir.  Whatever it happens to be, you can increase your head start in public speaking by increasing your association with writing and similar activities.

Practice, in this as with everything else, makes perfect.  With speaking, however, you have the ability to cross-train with writing.  Speaking helps your writing, and writing helps your speaking.  However you work at it, you will grow.

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6 Comments

  1. I used to participate in a historical monologue competition. THe first three years I did it I never got past the state level and though my stuff was well researched and I was quite enthusiastic there was alqways something just “off” about my monolgues. Then the forth year I started writing. I wrote my first novel the november before my forth compettition and by the time the regonal event rolled around I had written a nivella, and about a fourth of an epic fantasy like adventure novel. I ended up making it to the finals at the national level that year. I have no idea if there is a connection or not but after reading your post I am raather inclined to think there is. And it makes me think of something we all know is true but sometimes forget, writing isn’t justa way of making fiction, it will also just make you better at life in general. Which is comforting considering how often writers are told to get a “real job”.

    Great post!

    Reply
  2. Oh, this is so encouraging and so much of a relief. I don’t know that I ever would’ve figured this out, but when you explain it like this, it makes a whole lot of sense and makes me less confused/concerned about how this sort of thing will go later on for me. (My mom has been trying to find a debate class and/or a speaking class for my brother and me since…well, I don’t know when. But I’m sure it’ll happen one of these months.)

    One example related to this I’ll mention: I discovered about a year or two ago just how much all the types of writing help improve each other. Specifically, in my case, it was working for a student newspaper that helped me immensely. I started when I had just turned thirteen, I believe, and I still have a copy of the first article I wrote. Oh, my. It was terrible. But the real problem was, I thought it was great. Oops…

    Thankfully, I rather quickly learned my articles were NOT great and started improving (as well as learning a few things about estimating the amount of work I could reasonably take on in a month, but that’s another story). But it wasn’t for months and months until I became an editor for the paper that I realized how much everything I’d learned was helping me not only edit others’ articles, but also helping improve my own writing, in both fiction and for school. I guess this all translates well because no matter what you’re doing with words, you still have to make sentences and have things happen in an orderly progression and make things interesting and do things in a way that the audience, whether it be the one teacher reading an essay or thousands listening to a speech, will connect with the idea or feeling behind the words and understand. Or at least, that’s how I’ve thought of it.

    …Well, this got a bit long. That’s nothing new. But now I want to hear a speech of yours, Head Phil…

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  3. Good post.

    I’m not sure I could pants speeches. I have a terrible tendency to eventually say something that’s supposed to be humorous or interesting and then cue the crickets! That’s not even speeches; that’s just one on one conversation.

    That said, I still want to be a touring author and do book signings/readings and stuff like that. So… I have to work on it. Where and how, I don’t know. I’ll figure something out.

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  4. If I ever do any sort of public speaking, I now feel somewhat moderately-ish confident that I won’t do a horrible job. The keyword there being “ish”.

    Hehe, I liked your suggestion last night, though, about maybe pretending I’m “acting”, though. I mean, even if I’m not really a good actor at all, and I can’t even make myself not laugh at a fellow actor making funny voices even though I was playing a villain who…isn’t supposed to be laughing at anything at all, I think that actually still might help. I’ll try not to be the Hulk, though. That sounds scary.

    Heh. I don’t know. I really don’t have much of anything to say here, I guess, since I have no real experience with public speaking. So, in theory only, I can see the connection between speaking and writing and in theory I agree with this post. I just wish my writing helped with normal conversational speaking, though. You’ve no idea how many times someone’s made a snarky comment like, “And you call yourself a writer?” because I couldn’t figure out how to explain or describe something, or because I didn’t know what some word was, or because my grammar wasn’t impeccable.

    Anyway, though, good post! I feel encouraged, should I ever try to venture out into the world of public speaking. So thanks for that.

    Reply
  5. I noticed that, the more I write, the better I’m able to word things, and sometimes I find myself thinking not just in images but in words as well. That’s definitely new.

    Reply

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