What’s better than sitting in your favorite chair rereading one of your own stories? Sitting in a reading group, reading that story to an appreciative audience!
You’ve probably heard that the #1 fear of Americans is public speaking. If the option had been on the list, I have no doubt that “Reading my own work to a group” would surely be #2, and it might even be #1, because nearly everyone writes their own speech before delivering it.
Toastmasters was officially founded in 1924 by Ralph Smedley to help men improve their ability to effectively speak to groups. The seeds he planted have grown like kudzu, spreading around the world. More than 4,000,000 people, both men and women, have benefited from Toastmasters training, myself included. I recommend it to any writer, even if you never speak to groups. Membership fees are affordable, and the training in organizing your thoughts will help you think and write more clearly!
The key to the success of Toastmaster clubs is the use of peer evaluation. There are no teachers or professionals in Toastmasters, though some clubs have teachers or professional speakers among the members. Although thereare no classes outside club meetings, annual conferences at the area, regional and national levels offer workshops and presentations on honing specific skills. Members take turns evaluating each others speeches, highlighting things they did well as well as one or two points for improvement. Serving in the evaluator role helps members become more discerning listeners, enabling them to learn from the experience of others as well as their own.
Quite sadly, there is no well-oiled national organization available to give writers the same benefit, but that doesn’t mean you can’t experience it. Find or form a writers group in your local area. Find one that emphasizes the positive aspects of a piece as well as giving pointers for improving it. Participate with gusto, always bring a story, ready to read. Remember that the input you receive from others is only their opinion, and that you are free to take their advice or leave it. If you can't find such a group, start one.
Although nothing can beat the pleasure and value of reading your work aloud to a live group, online groups are also valuable. In an online group, you can submit your work and receive written feedback from a number of people, often strangers, Again, look for a supportive group that appreciates your strengths as well as tenderly helping improve your skills.
Write now: a story about an experience speaking in public. Include plenty of sensory detail, like self-talk, wobbly knees, shaky voice, damp palms. Describe the way your notes shook in your hands. Let readers know how your tummy felt. Then think about reading this story in public, and join the Life Writers Critique Group to shore up your skills.