Hello and welcome, are you all comfortable? Great, let’s begin. I’m here today to tell you, yes you, the man in the front row looking nervous, how the art of public speaking can be transferred in to your writing. ‘How’ I hear you ask? I’ll explain.
Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to attend a series of sessions aimed at improving my public speaking. While there I learnt many lessons, from how to stop ‘umming’ and ‘errring’ to how to stand properly. What I also learnt, was that speaking is really no different to writing. If you can be a great speaker, there’s no reason you can’t be a great writer too. Because, when it comes down to it, they’re both just forms of communication.
Now, you’re probably wondering what you’re going to get from this talk, so let me tell you. In the next 5 minutes I’m going to show you the 5 lessons I learnt about public speaking, and how you can actually transfer those skills straight into your writing, right now. Vice versa, feel free to use the following tips to improve your presentation skills. So sit back, enjoy the free tea, and let’s get started.
First things first, as with any good presentation, your writing needs a clear, easy to follow structure. Don’t take after an ambiguous indie film and work from the middle outwards; the trusted Beginning, Middle and End formula is there for a reason – use it.
A clear beginning that offers an overview and maybe a hint as to your conclusion, can go a long way to keeping your reader’s attention. Bulk out the middle with your need-to-know information, but don’t go making any conclusions, just leave your reader hints to follow. Finally, make your ending snappy and go out with a bang. The more memorable or inspirational your last paragraph, the more chance there is that your reader will respond to your writing in the way that you want.
Without structure, your reader may find your content difficult to follow, and that can cause them to leave. As a result they won’t like, share, or possibly even read your content at all. Your structure works as a signpost, guiding your reader through your content.
As with all good speeches, research is key to owning your content.
A key problem I had, which was quickly exposed, was my inability to really own my content, and you know why? Because I didn’t do enough research or preparation. I didn’t know my content well enough, and it showed. My lack of confidence didn’t come from nerves, it came from the fact that I hadn’t prepared enough.
Preparation can come in many forms. For example, if you’re writing about a product you might read previous product descriptions on the website. You might look at the tone, the types of words they use, and the length of the copy. Is it feature- or benefit-led? Do they refer to the styling of the product, or the state-of-the-art technology it brings? What narrative do they write in?
The same goes for writing. Not many writers have the natural skill of being able to open their laptop and just write. To write great content, you need to own it, you need to understand it, and you need to write with confidence. So, before you start, take some time, even if it’s just 5 minutes, to do a little preparation.
Doing even 5 minutes preparation will not only improve your writing from the start, it might even save you time and money in the long run. As Stephen Keague said, “Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance”
When speaking in public, you need to know who you’re presenting to, and it’s knowing this that helps you choose the words you use and the tone you take. Present to a crowd who already knows your subject and you will likely use lots of subject specific terms and jargon, so they know you’re the real deal. On the other hand, speak to a crowd of beginners and you’ll likely present your subject in a clear and simple manner so your audience will understand. The same is true for content.
When writing it’s important to consider your audience. While it’s difficult for someone to stand up and leave in the middle of a presentation, in this digital age it’s extremely simple, and common, for an internet user to glance at your content and leave, should they not like what they see.
For example, if you, yes you in the smart shirt, were to write an educational piece aimed at readers unfamiliar with your topic, then your writing needs to be exactly what they need to know. And vice versa, don’t aim your content at an experienced and knowledgeable readership then give them the barebones – you don’t want to patronise them.
So the next time you write, imagine yourself presenting your content to a crowd, what would you say? This should help you to formulate your content’s style, tone and word choice.
When used properly, a visual aid can make a dull speech interesting. A well placed graph or a comical picture can go a long way to keeping your audience interested, as long as your audience can read them.
In writing, breaking up long-form content with pictures and visual aids is also a great way to keep your reader engaged. As we know, internet users are prone to skimming, and if your content consists primarily of text, they won’t skim for long.
Including even one or two interesting and relevant images can instantly improve the readability of a piece. By adding images, you’re breaking your long-form content down into smaller, more skim friendly chunks, which your reader will appreciate.
If your copy revolves around the picture, then even better. Many times, an eye-catching image can actually be the reason a user will click through to your page, as they may be interested in your image and the story behind it.
But always remember, Google can read, but it can’t see; so make sure you include some descriptive alt text!
I’ve always been a stickler for presentation. Whether you’re talking to a crowded room or publishing an article on a blog, I believe that appearance is almost equally as important as the words that you have written.
It would be nice not to have to consider appearance, but that is the way it is. Let’s say you were going to present to a group of company executives about a topic you felt passionate about. Now let’s say you did it wearing a flowery suit, with flared trousers and no shoes. Would they take you seriously? Would they pay attention to your content? Or would they be too busy laughing at your attire?
The way you present yourself, and your information, needs to match the tone of your content. There are many factors to consider before publishing and these can range from carrying out a spell check to ensuring the headers are consistent in size and format. Consider your font, is it hard to read? Is it too big? Is it too small? Like a speaker who mumbles, your reader will stop paying attention and likely leave.
If a user were to come across your writing, and your website or your blog looked like it was designed 10 years ago, there’s a very good chance that they will instinctively assume your content is 10 years old, outdated, and not worth their precious time.
Just as with your presentation, users will respond better to a website that looks like it takes care of itself and understands its readers. So step away from the Comic Sans and think about what you’re doing.
So, before I finish and you can enjoy the breadsticks and cheese outside, let me leave you with this.
Like public speaking, the skill of writing takes time, effort, and dedication. It is not a skill that you can pick up in one day, it is one that takes practice. It takes writing as often as you can about anything you can. It takes countless rewrites and edits, just to get that one headline right. It takes putting yourself and your content out there in the public eye and taking what they have to give, whether it’s praise, constructive criticism, or just plain heckling.
So stick at it. If you can make one listener clap, the rest will follow. If you can make one reader share your writing, well, who knows…