Monday, February 25, 2013

Public Speaking Tips

I perform comedy. I love being on stage. I'm comfy and cozy and thrilled to be speaking in front of a crowd.

I know this isn't the case for a lot of writers. I wanted to share my tips of the public speaking/performing trade here as well as tap into the awesome minds of some of my very talented friends and fellow comedy performers, storytellers, writers, blogger, and actors.


So. . . let's do this!


Remember to breathe!
Sara Benincasa 

Create an outline of your main points. . . speak extemporaneously.
-Nichelle Stevens

Take it slow and stay in the moment. Stand in a "power pose" for one minute like Wonder Woman with your hands on your waist. This actually works.
(credit to Kelly Kimball for showing this to me)
-Jen Kwok

. . .try to keep it in perspective. Look at the bigger picture. . .I always look into the future and say to myself, 'Well at this time tomorrow the whole thing will be over. Awesome.'
 Onstage if you feel lightheaded or nervous, I recommend wiggling the toes and slightly bending the knees to keep the blood flowing.
-Katie Hartman

Luke warm water or tea to loosen vocal cords. If you need to have water or tea during speech, have it in a cup w/ or w/o a straw because nothing is uglier than seeing someone drink out of a bottle.
-Kambri Crews

Don't judge yourself harshly, and don't judge others harshly. You'll be surprised at how this way of looking at life creates a golden shield of magical happy fearless strength around you. Negativity will bounce right off.
-Livia Scott

Stop right before you begin speaking…center yourself and take a deep breath. Never forget to breathe! No one wants to see you pass out, especially if you have a great story to tell!
-Katina Corrao

Be mindful of your breath and any tension you might be holding and try to have fun!
-Ann Carr

Admit it if you're nervous - crowds find that charming and it will calm you down.
-Carolyn Castiglia

And from me:

Practice/Say it out loud
It’s easy to get caught up in all the other details of your event and not allow yourself enough time to go over what you’re reading. If you have the prep time, practice reading out loud to flex your muscle memory. No need to memorize or over rehearse, but boost your confidence knowing that one part of your muscle memory brain will kick in and get that next sentence out, while the other part is screaming, “what the crap am I doing up here? I want to go home!”

Nobody knows you’re nervous
Really, they don’t. You might feel the sweat running down your neck, your hands shaking, or hear your voice and think “God I sound nervous,” but you don’t. Not as much as you think anyway. Remember, what you’re hearing and feeling is NOT what the audience is hearing or seeing. If you don't feel comfortable addressing your nerves like Carolyn suggested, than hopefully you can ride it out knowing that for the most part it's your little secret.

Mark it up
Sometimes reading from a book, especially if the font is small, can mess you up. Plus you have to hold it open, you can lose your place,  and even turning the page can mess with your flow and confidence. I like to print my own copy of the words I need to read in the font/size I like, and then mark it up. Singers mark up their music with check marks of when to breathe and reminders on how to phrase. You can do the same thing with your book passage. Mark pauses and breath reminders with checks and slashes, an up arrow to remind yourself to look up and out when you pause, a smiley face to remind you to  smile, a  squiggly line to remind you alter your pitch if you tend to go monotone.

Record it
Make an audio recording or video of yourself reading or telling your story. You'll be able to hear where you speed up, drop end of sentence volume, and pinpoint problem words. Plus you can see what you might be doing physically to distract the audience from your great words:  playing with something in your pocket, twirling that strand of hair,  standing on one foot.

And finally. . .

Create an alter-ego
This might seem crazy, but stay with me. Sometimes it's scary being up there as ‘you.’ If you're Mindy The Writer and Mindy The Writer is most comfortable being alone at her computer, then tell yourself that in this moment, for this reading, at this panel, you're Mindy The Speaker. Mindy The Speaker loves being out in front of a crowd. Mindy The Speaker is confident and excited about this event. Of course it's important to be yourself up there, but maybe you just need to re-name yourself to let go of that, "I'm a writer, not a speaker" attitude.

Helpful? Scary? 

What about you guys? What do you do to rock a reading, panel, event, speech?

Happy writing and happy public speaking!



Mindy Raf is a writer, comedy performer, and musician based in Brooklyn, NY. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan, and grew up in a Detroit suburb right around here (visualize the bottom of your left thumb). She has written for VH1,, was a contributor to the “My Parents Were Awesome” anthology.  
Her debut YA novel The Symptoms of My Insanity comes out 
April 18 2013 with Dial/Penguin


  1. Great tips!! I find writing that brief outline guides my spoken words, while I scan my audience. Also, once you find a reaction out of them, keep going in that direction. It's amazing what we have inside of us and what we can share when we let ourselves go. :)

  2. I love this post, Mindy! These are some great tips, and I'll definitely be keeping them in mind.


  3. Great tips. Even though I'm an attorney and speak in Court fairly often, speaking as an author makes me very nervous. You've given me some practical tips, which I appreciate.

  4. Fabulous post, Mindy! Such a timely topic for our debut year. I'm going to print this out and save it. Thank you!

  5. Excellent tips, Mindy. I'm definitely going to use the wonder woman one. Yusss!

  6. Super helpful! Thank you. Love Livia's wise advice, especially.

  7. Awesome stuff!! Love the parts about marking up your pages and renaming yourself! :)

  8. Great tips! Ones I really REALLY needed. :)

  9. Wow, sooooooo helpful to someone that has never gotten up in front of a crowd me!

  10. Thanks all! So glad you like and found helpful! : )

  11. These are the most important tips one should take care of. Very well written.