Every writer needs to know how to speak well, whether you’re discussing a story with an editor, participating in a pitch slam, or—if your writing is a hit—being a good interviewee. But waiting until you have that interview or finding yourself dumbstruck in front of an editor is a horrible time to realize your words either aren’t coming out, don’t make much sense or are just boring.
There are many reasons why we, as writers, might allow ourselves to get to that horrible moment. The most common reason I’ve heard involves a logical error. The aphorism to “Write like you talk” suggests that because you write well, you talk well. Not at all, and there are many books out there to dissuade you of that bit of illogical reasoning, including Don’t Write Like You Talk and Write Like You Talk Only Better. There are plenty of blog posts on this topic as well. Everything I’ve read about this logical error all sum up with the following advice: if you speak well, then write like you talk; if you don’t speak well, then don’t write like you talk. And that’s not very helpful.
So how do you learn to speak well? If you search the Internet, you’re going to find a whole host of opportunities that involve you paying someone else to practice speaking, whether it’s joining your local Toastmasters club or even, say, taking an improvisational comedy class. I’m a freelancer, so I like to find ways to get paid to practice or improve at a skill. The best way I’ve found to do that is by translating written text into spoken text. So I seek opportunities to write, co-author, and edit scripts for podcasts, radio, and television. Along the way, I learn or am reminded of lessons on how to speak well.
If you don’t have that kind of translation experience yet or are not interested in joining the podcasting tribe, there are other ways you can practice translating written to spoken text and have it be more valuable than just as an exercise for learning to speak well. For example, if you maintain a blog or use various social media tools for marketing purposes, try composing or editing your entries so that when you read them aloud they sound good to someone else. Text that sounds good when spoken aloud is surprisingly good for marketing your writing ability because people hear their “inner voice” when reading text, even when they are reading silently. So the better your tweets, posts, and marketing text sounds when read aloud, the better your text will convey your ability as a writer.
You already know such a listening friend to help you. It’s that person that you run your ideas by and ask for honest critiques, the one who doesn’t mince words or pull punches. Almost every adult is an expert at discerning good speech from bad. After all, we’ve been consuming spoken text all our lives in the form of conversations, lectures, radio and television programs, movie trailers, political speeches, etc.. Of course, your listening friend may not be able to identify what isn’t working about your spoken text, but should be able to tell you whether you are engaging, confusing, appropriate, clear, or trite, for example, and tell you of any memorable phrases or sentences.
Then, start using the tweets, social-media posts, and blog entries that sound good to your listening friend as templates for translating other written to spoken text, particularly in pitching story ideas. Use the memorable phrases or sentences your listening friend identifies when talking with editors or in interviewee situations. It does take practice. But as soon as you start to see—and hear—the results, you’ll be hooked.