How To Prepare For Public Speaking

One of my goals this year is to get my Membership of the National Speaker’s Association Australia which means I have to do a certain number of paid speaking events. Becoming an excellent speaker is a goal because professional authors who can speak make more money than those who don’t. (Check out the latest controversy over Neil Gaiman’s speaking fee). They are also valued highly for the Festival circuit (which I love!). The Sydney Morning Herald recently quoted a festival organiser,

“Writers become festival fixtures because they can deliver. And yes, word does filter through the festival grapevine about who does. There are certainly writers who sell more books at festival time than they do the rest of the year because they are good performers. It’s become a skill that is useful for a writer.”

So in my quest to become a (highly paid) professional speaker, I recently spoke at the Gold Coast Writer’s Association. It was a full day workshop with 17 people on Author Branding, Blogging and Marketing using the internet. In this short video taken before the event, I explain how I prepare for my public speaking because a lot of people have asked me about it.

Text below the video for those who don’t like to watch!

In this video, I explain:

  • Arriving early is great as it lowers stress, allows you time for a coffee and a read through of your notes as well as time to set up slowly and meet people
  • Be prepared. Have slides on your laptop, plus a USB key, plus on the internet plus on paper in case of technical problems
  • Research. I did questionnaire before hand asking people for specific questions and asking if I could use them as case studies to make the session more directed
  • Connection with people before the event can give you anecdotes to put in the session and lower anxiety by connecting you to individuals instead of being in a crowd
  • Bring products: Books, CDs to sell plus stuff to set up quickly as people do want to take you away with them
  • Video camera if you want to video, but get permission and also ignore it, as it doesn’t serve your audience
  • Personal appearance: I wear a certain outfit and jewelry that makes me feel professional. I also learned about makeup last year so I could do it properly for an event as I don’t usually wear it.
  • Take headache pill. This is my personal choice, not a recommendation! I enjoy speaking but it is stressful, plus the long drive and a full day ahead means I often get head pain. I take a pill beforehand so the day is fun for me too.
  • I have a coffee beforehand and water throughout the day, I eat lightly
  • Loud music. I listen to some loud music on the journey down to set my persona for the day. As an introvert I am not energised by people so I need to put on my performance self. This is not an act, but merely the side of me that does public appearances! Matt Church talked about this at the National Speaker’s Association conference so I’m not alone.
  • Write down intention for the day. I always write down what I want to achieve, and what I want people to get out of it. This sets my own expectations and allows for synchronicity to occur.

Do you have any tips for preparing for public speaking?

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  1. says

    I find my training courses go better if I’ve excercised beforehand. There’s no point being hot and sweaty before you get up, but some physical excercise gets the heart and lungs going and makes me feel less nervous.

    I agree with the idea of an informal chat with some of the audience beforehand- it certainly is easier than going on to a crowd of unfamiliar faces. It also gives you an opportunity to impress- if some of your audience like you before you get up, you have a head start.

    • says

      Exercise is a good one, or maybe just a walk for some fresh air. I love chatting prior, people become real, I become real too.

  2. says

    I like the idea of writing an affirmation for the day and of playing music to enegerize. I too am an intervert who enjoys doing speaking engagements. Instead of taking an aspirin I take a herbal treatment that calms my nerves before hand.
    As I am beginning my writing career, I not been paid for my engagements yet. However, I have none a number of spoken word performances and book readings. I have enjoyed each and every one of them and would love to do more.
    I even have a book reading on YouTube which you can access by visiting my web site.
    I hope your talk went very well and thank you for sharing your tips.

    • says

      Thanks Leanne, I get paid to speak on digital marketing for entrepreneurs as well as book related stuff. So maybe develop another topic for speaking if you want to make some money that way.
      All the best :)

  3. says

    Thanks for the post, Joanna! Sounds like your prep for public speaking is a lot like my prep for performance. One difference is that I don’t listen to music. I really need peace and quiet. I especially like the idea of writing down an intention for the day. Thanks for the tip!

      • says

        Joanna, how exciting that you’re doing workshops and speaking engagements! You might think about some vocal training as well as learning some deep breathing exercises. I trained vocally during high school and college, and what I learned continues to help me in my performances. One trick is to keep your vocal cords and neck muscles relaxed, which takes training and practice. Also, using your diaphragm to breathe deeply while speaking helps you to project your voice without straining it. But it’s hard to do a whole day of speaking without having a little voice strain. So, maybe with more marathon sessions you’ll naturally adapt. Good luck!

        • says

          one strange but good piece of advice – avoid black tea because it dries up your throat and hinders the voice. And also eat prunes before the performance (despite the “good for the bowel” stigma). Prunes are great for the voice. Deep diaphragmatic breathing (when you feel your sides expand) also helps – as does speaking slowly. But those require training. When you learn to breathe with your diaphragm, your voice comes from the bottom of your ribcage and it does not make your throat as tired as normal speaking (the technique which I learnt during my choir experience).


  1. […] Penn on her blog The Creative Penn has written an excellent article on this very topic. Her article How to prepare for public speaking covers the topic really well. I recommend that you flip over there and have a read – or listen to […]

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