Breaking Through Writer’s Block II

The step-by-step process to get past the proverbial blank page of the previous blog is as applicable to presenters as it is to writers. Another method to break through the mental barricade is to just start talking.

Writers have long known that speaking aloud what they have written in silence helps them shape their ideas. In a Wired Magazine article on voice recognition, Clive Thompson tells of how sixteenth-century French essayist Michel de Montaigne and nineteenth-century American writer Henry James wrote by dictating their work to their secretaries. Thompson also cites the modern example of writer and critic Tim Carmody who “found himself staring at an empty page, not knowing where to begin. He had no problem talking to friends about his ideas, so Carmody booted up Dragon (voice recognition software from Nuance), talked aloud for hours, and got past the block.”

Carmody was experiencing the starting point of a spectrum of benefits that comes from speaking aloud the words they have written. Sometimes it helps with words that others have written. For instance, in researching content for my writing, I often find source material that exists only in print that I cannot copy and paste. In that case, I click on the “Dictate” function in Microsoft Word and convert the text into a document. During that process, I often find new ways to lead into or out of the passage.

Speaking aloud also provides perspective during the homestretch of the creative process—in the reviewing and polishing steps. Many professional writers read their work aloud as a form of proofreading.

Giving voice to what had been a silent process puts writers in the role of their readers and gives them an objective view of their content. Bestselling author Nicholson Baker calls his version of this process “speak-typing,” in which he dictates to himself and types as he speaks. In an interview with the New York Times about his book House of Holes, Baker explained that “the words come out differently. The sentences come out simpler, and there’s less of a temptation to go back and add more foliage. I’m trying for a simpler kind of storytelling.”

Speaking aloud is also useful when you are preparing your presentations. At Suasive, we call the process Verbalization. We recommend that presenters rehearse their presentations by displaying their slides in the slide sorter or storyboard view and then Verbalizing the run through of their narrative.

Giving voice to ideas also helps the challenging front end of the creative process. Just as Mr. Carmody did, you can jump-start your own creative process by speaking your presentation aloud and recording it using any voice recording function available to you. Then playback the recording and, based on what you hear, shape or reshape your ideas and words. The key to breaking the logjam is to start talking.

Writer’s block occurs because the prospect of starting from scratch is daunting. Even if a writer has a clear idea of a new story— or a presenter has a clear idea of a new presentation—the prospect of choosing which of all the many available ideas to include or how much detail to provide, overloads the mind. However, writers and presenters alike, having lived with their subject matter, know it intimately and have no difficulty chatting about it. Extend that facility into having a private chat with your recording device. You’ll find the process liberating and productive.

Just as  Mr. Montaigne said: “‘The things I say,’ Mr. Montaigne dictated, ‘are better than those I write.’”

This blog is an excerpt from my book Winning Strategies for Power Presentations published by Pearson. Also check out my newly released Presentation Trilogy—Presenting to Win, The Power Presenter, and In the Line of Fireavailable on Amazon and other retailers.