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5 Easy Steps to Make Your Writing Stand Out

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5 Easy Steps to Make Your Writing Stand Out

Writing is complicated. I mean, at first it doesn’t really seem that way since it’s just words on a page, but to really craft something meaningful and interesting take training, dedication, and a pinch of talent. I don’t purport to have that last thing, but I do try to keep my skills up to snuff. But enough about me. How can you improve your writing? In many ways, that’s an incredibly difficult question to answer. I was once a teaching assistant for a writing class, and often my colleagues and I would argue about how exactly we should go about helping students improve their writing. I don’t know if we ever came to a definitive answer, but I can give you some of the basics that will help your writing reach levels you’ve never dreamed of previously.

1. Don’t fret about your grammar.

Sure, it’s important that your writing flows well and is easy to read. But the mistake many make when first starting to write is that they focus far too much on the structure of their piece, and not on its substance. Do I want to read a well-written article about something uninteresting, or an intriguing article with a few mistakes here or there? The answer should be pretty obvious. Yes, your goal should be to combine great grammar and structure with an interesting topic, but that takes time and lots of practice. When you’re just starting out, you need to cut yourself some slack and concentrate on what you’re saying, not how you’re saying it. The style and grammar will come in time.

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2. Stay focused.

The key to any form of writing is to pick one topic or argument and stick with it. In academic writing, you’d be hard pressed to find a Ph.D. who strays too far from his or her initial thesis. Likewise, in an article that’s about improving your writing, I’m not going to start talking about basketball and video games.

One expert, Jeff Goins, describes this process as narrowing your audience. As a writer, you can’t be all things to all people. The best works are written with a specific focus in mind, and it is that focus that attracts a specific group of readers. Interestingly enough, sticking to one topic or argument also tends to attract people from outside of your target audience. For example, if I was writing a political article in favor of some part of the Republican Party’s agenda, not only would I get Republican readers who agree with me, but I would also attract Democrats who disagree with my contention. By narrowing your audience and preventing yourself from becoming too broad in your writing, you become more interesting (and controversial) to readers. This leads me to my next point…

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3. Make your points arguable.

Going back to Jeff Goins, he calls what I described in the last paragraph the “paradox of specific writing.” I disagree with him in terms of why that paradox exists, however. He postulates that if an article is popular amongst one group, they’ll be bound to share it with their friends, who often belong to other groups. That might be the case sometimes, but I also think the paradox exists because people like reading things they disagree with, if only because they are interested in hearing a new point of view, or are angered in some way by the author’s contentions. This phenomenon can be seen in the comments section of Goins’ article, where you can witness a smattering of people arguing against some of his points in a friendly manner.

Case in point, I was attracted to the paradox section of his article because, while I agreed with it for the most part, I had a bit of a different stance that I wished to share with you. You might have a different view than I, and may be compelled to comment on this article to give your side of the story. That’s the magic of writing though. It’s supposed to be arguable, flexible even. The best a writer can do is pick a stance, find evidence, sprinkle in some of their own experiences, and present it to the public. When doing that, you’ll always find people who don’t entirely agree, and that’s great because they’ll be nearly as interested in reading your work as those who do agree.

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4. Edit your work once, twice, maybe three times.

Allow me to let you in on a little secret I learned long ago and is reaffirmed in a great piece I read about writing marketable articles: “great writing never happens on the first draft.” In fact, if you read the first drafts of most professional writers you’d probably laugh and think you could do better. This ties into the point I made above about grammar. You should not care about how your writing sounds when you’re first putting it on the page. What matters is that you’re writing from your heart, that the words are flowing from your brain onto the page as easily as they flow from your mouth. First drafts are almost like semi-directed freewrites. I usually just let it rip on my first draft, and I’m one of the most picky people I know when it comes to correcting errors in my work as soon as I see them. Often, what separates a good article from a bad one is the amount of times it has been edited. One pass is usually good enough to catch spelling and punctuation errors. Two passes will see that your style is consistent, and that everything flows nicely. Three passes is good for catching all of the minor things that most will miss. For longer works, like 50-page theses or books, more passes are required to make sure everything fits together.

The key thing here is that your brain is smart enough to get what you want to say onto paper, if you give it the chance. Sure, it might not sound great, but look at it this way: once the basic content is on the page, the rest is just the simple act of proofreading and making stylistic adjustments where necessary. Easy peasy, right?

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5. Write an impactful conclusion.

Remember back in high school when your English teacher told you that a conclusion was basically a rehash of your introduction? Well, that’s kind of true. As you become more experienced though, you’ll start adding layers onto that general concept. The main thing you’ll want to hit upon at the end of an article is the significance of it all. Why was it important that you just read this? What does it all mean in the grand scheme of things? In the words of the experts, how did the readers “benefit from the information you provided?” As a history major, I spent a lot of time talking about the significance of the arguments I made in essays. It’s the sort of the thing that lets the reader know that the information they took in had some meaning, that it was more than a mindless collection of words and clever phrases.

Let’s put that theory to the test. What was the point of this article? Why should you remember it beyond the next few minutes? I think the answer is quite simple: everyone has to be a writer at some point or another, whether it be in e-mails, articles, essays, or a novel. Being a good writer isn’t easy, I admit that, but if you follow the basic tenets, it’s easy to improve. Everybody has the potential to write about something, to take one of their experiences and transform it into a fantastic article. Why not give it a try? With the knowledge you’ve gained with this article, you now have the tools you need to go out and start a blog of your own, or keep a personal diary, or write an essay on U.S. politics–whatever you wish! Your voice matters, and writing helps you get it out there in a way that everyone, even those who disagree with you, will appreciate.

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Featured photo credit: Writing Tools/Pete O’Shea via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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