What assets do you have as a speaker? How can those assets get turned into amazing tips to write a compelling and well-received book that serves your audience? Speaker-turned-author, Cheri Gregory joins Kathi as they explore the answers to these questions. If we realize the mindset shift we need is comprised of small adjustments it makes the task of writing a book more manageable.
In today’s episode, you will know:
- What specific assets you have as a speaker.
- How to take those assets and redirect them in writing.
- Find and use “Mentor Texts.”
- How to use a team to work through the process of writing.
A big thanks to our episode sponsor, Permission to Post with Bethany Howard.
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Join us for next week’s episode (Part 2) when we talk about the next five assets we have as speakers and how they translate to our writing!
Transcript of this Episode
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Communicator Academy Podcast # 162
Move Your Message from Stage to Page
Are you feeling stuck? My friend, Bethany Howard, over at Permission to Post, offers creative brainstorming and development editing sessions. You guys, she’s a genius. Get unstuck. Elevate your impact with Permission to Post. Check out her link in the show notes to find out more.
Kathi – Well, hey friends! Welcome to Communicator Academy, where our heart is to equip and encourage men and women to become the communicators that God has created them to be. Today, we are joining you from Writing at the Townhouse. If you didn’t hear this in the previous podcast, we go snowed out of The Red House and so, fortunately, construction on the San Jose townhouse had just completed two days before everybody descended on our house. We had some of the most flexible people in the world. Now, one of the attendees, who was actually like a co-teacher. Sorry. You expect to come as a guest, and I put you to work, but that’s our relationship. It’s Cheri Gregory. Hey, Cheri. Welcome back to Communicator Academy.
Cheri – Oh, thank you.
Kathi – I think you’re our most frequent guest.
Cheri – It’s a privilege to be here, and to your listeners, Writing at The Red House, you have to be there. It was AMAZING.
Kathi – It was a pretty special group, but I would have said that about the first group. I can’t be objective. You said it best, “I feel like we got a year’s worth of work done in five days.” We thought this was about proposals, but it turned out, it was about refining book content to an audience’s need and learning how to wow an editor.
Cheri – There’s something about the work-shopping process, of being able to do it in an intensive situation, and just keep going through and getting feedback. It was amazing to be a part of, but it was even more amazing to watch.
Kathi – Everybody’s going to go home and sleep for a week. Except for us, who have guests coming this afternoon, no big deal. This is how we roll. It’s interesting, because most of the people who attended this Red House were speakers. What a fun group. It’s also interesting, because as a speaker who writes (unlike a writer who is forced to speak, I’m a speaker who’s forced to write), there’s this illusion that they’re the same set of skills.
Cheri – Oh, absolutely. I even fell for this. I’m more of a writer who speaks and when we wrote Overwhelmed, I had this brilliant idea. Everybody says, “Well, Kathi writes exactly the way she speaks.” So, I thought, “I know what we’ll do. You and I will have Skype conversations. I will have them transcribed. I will copy and paste those transcripts into a book and the book will write itself.” Arg!
Kathi – And that’s not true! But, it is interesting. When people read my books, they hear my voice.
Cheri – Your written voice is consistent with your speaking voice. They take your books home, they read them, and they feel they have you there with them. That is evidence that you have translated your message from the stage to the page, but I’m now understanding how many skills it has taken for you to be able to do that, and how intentional you had to be in doing that.
Kathi – Okay, maybe intentional, or maybe I have learned things unaware along the way. I would love to say that I was super-intentional about it, but I think I have naturally learned what works better on the page than the stage. There have been times I have written something first and then I try to speak it out and I was like, “It was so funny when I wrote it!” I have enough presence on the stage to make it work, if I have to, but it’s not the same. So, you’re giving us ten things that are kind of the expectations when you’re a speaker. So, if you’re a speaker who writes, this is going to be super-valuable to you to be aware as you’re writing, how you make that translation. Maybe you make those keynote stories you’ve told a thousand times, and you think you can just translate them. What you forget is, you’ve got assets, while you’re speaking that you don’t have when you’re writing. So, I want to talk about what are those assets? And, how do you make those come alive in our writing. So, this is going to be a two part-er, because we’ve got ten, and we don’t have time for ten. So, I want to cover the first five today. So, Cheri, what is the first asset we have as a speaker, and how do we translate that to being a writer.
Cheri – Well, the first thing is A Captive Audience. Literally. There are social norms that say that once the speaker has begun, unless there is a dire emergency, the people in the audience are going to stay seated. They are going to either listen, or nod off in sleep, but they’re going to stay put. So, you can count on that. You can count on the fact that they are not going to disappear, whereas with a reader, they have the option to quit reading at any point in time. They can decide not to turn the page. They can decide to stop scrolling. They can decide to simply delete your email. So, it’s completely different. You have to captivate and then re-captivate your reader and keep them turning the page, which you don’t have to do that from stage.
Kathi – If this is something you’re working on, and let’s be clear, it’s something I’m working on: Good fiction does this so well. The best fiction books you’re reading, these are the ones that do it well. I just read a huge book. It was called Then She Was Gone. It’s about a woman whose daughter was kidnapped. I know, I read really cheery stuff. I’d heard so many good things about the writing. There were surprises and reveals along the way. Let me be super-honest. We’re not going to tell anybody else, right? I’m here at The Red House and in The Red House, we have writing time in the morning and then we have work time in the afternoon. So, you’re on your own.
Cheri – You read during the writing time?
Kathi – I went and ran errands, ’cause it was a book on tape!
Cheri – You cheater.
Kathi – I was so excited about my Costco run yesterday.
Cheri – I was going to volunteer! But it was because you wanted to get back to the book.
Kathi – I knew I needed breaks throughout this week, ’cause it’s been an intense week. It’s an intense week whenever we do these things, but, also, having to switch locations and everything. So, I went to Costco and I listened to my book and I was so happy. I came home refreshed. Don’t worry. Nobody missed out on any time with me. They were supposed to be writing. It was all sanctioned. That’s what good writing does. It makes you want to get back to it.
Cheri – When I’m reading a really well-written book that does this, I want to get up in the morning and go exercise on the elliptical. When the book isn’t keeping me? I stay in bed.
Kathi – So, a reader always has the option to turn the page. How do we, as a speaker who writes, how do we keep people coming back?
Cheri – You mentioned suspense, cliffhangers, doing the slow reveal. Just from a visual standpoint, you’ve taught me, when you turn pages, if there’s a pull quote, if there’s a bullet point, a new heading, to make it very scan-able. This is true about blog posts, too. To make it easy for them to keep on going. If it’s too much of a block of text, and it’s not broken up in any way, there’s just visual fatigue, and will stop just for that.
Kathi – I doubt you do this, but I do this. If it looks like it’s going to be too big and it’s going to be all description, I just skip it.
Cheri – All the time.
Kathi – Okay, good. That makes me feel less of a bad English student. So, the first thing is a captive audience. The second thing, as a speaker, is….
Cheri – Audience Response. Most of us you, who are natural born speakers, or who have speaking experience, you’ve learned how to read your audience. You have that as an intuitive, natural gift. So, you can tell when they’re with you. You can tell when something hasn’t landed right. I’ve seen you stop and go, “Hang on a second.” You’ve even asked the audience why they laughed at something, or why they groaned at something, or did you say something wrong, and they’ll shout it back to you. Then you’ll respond to it. Or something was funnier than you thought it would be. But you can’t do that with a reader. You’re not there. The number of times I’ve worked with clients and when I tell them that a passage in their writing is unclear, they say, “Oh, no!” and they start to explain it to me. I’m like, “But you won’t be there!” You’re not there!
Kathi – You don’t get to explain it to your audience, so you better have that. You can’t get it twisted.
Cheri – Seth Godin says that if you confuse the reader, they will feel stupid and they will blame you, as the author. They’ll never go, “Wow, I should read this a fourth time, because I’m obviously not being attentive enough.” They’ll, in their minds, subconsciously, be like, “Stupid author made me feel stupid.” And they’ll close the book.
Kathi – I’m going to answer what a speaker needs, ’cause I know. You need proofreaders and feedback. So, if something isn’t clear, they can say, “I know what you meant, Kathi, because I know the situation, but your reader’s not going to know.”
Cheri – And you need that early. We’ll probably talk about this later, but you and I have both learned to use manuscript development teams and they can be so valuable. To be willing to receive, and also to know when, in your writing process, you can receive that kind of feedback. Sometimes, getting too much feedback too early can squelch the creative process for you.
Kathi – You don’t want to do that. Okay, Number Three. What’s the third thing that we need to know we’re not going to have?
Cheri – Stage Blocking.
Kathi – Okay, explain that.
Cheri – Most speakers that I’ve seen, they will use the stage to demonstrate. I’m thinking of a particular client I’ve worked with who had this really dramatic story of her husband’s death. When she’s on stage, when she talks about before he died, she’s on stage right. She’ll stand over there and talk about the past. Then, if she’s talking about what actually happened, she moves to the center, which is kind of, present tense. Then, when she imagines a future, she then moves to stage left. She moves on, what looks like a chronological timeline. So, the audience knows where she’s at. If she goes back to the past, she moves in that direction. Comes back to the present. Moves to the future in her thinking. So, by her body, she can go back and forth and the audience follows her.
Kathi – But you can’t do that in a book.
Cheri – Oh my goodness.
Kathi – Okay, but here’s something I’ve never noticed in fiction books until the last two I read.
Cheri – What’s that?
Kathi – So, in this one, Then She Was Gone, some of the chapters started off ‘then’ and some of the chapters started off ‘now’. Another book, I read (I’ve read the best books recently) Before We Were Yours, some of it takes part in present time, 2015, or something like that. Then, other parts are in the 1930’s. They’ll start off by saying, 1938 or 2011. If you have a lot of people involved with the story, it can get very confusing. Saying ‘then’, ‘now’, putting dates on it, journal entries with a date, those are all techniques can use to ground people, so they’re not confused. You don’t want to read a passage and you think it’s happening in 1930, then you realize, “Then she pulled out her Galaxy phone.” And you’re like, “Wait. What? I thought we were in the orphanage.”
Cheri – You can do what I call Time Travel. Back and forth. That’s how we tell stories, verbally. But, again, if we’re face to face, we can clarify something if they look confused. So, what I do, if someone has already written this out, and I think there’s a lot of time travel, I say, “I want you to make a time line on a piece of paper and literally trace it.” Just see how much you zigzag. If you look like a Richter Scale, or whatever they use when an earthquake happens, and you’re zigzagging all over the place, stop it! Our audience can handle a little bit of flashback or flash forward, but you can’t do it the same way on the page as you can on the stage.
Kathi – Excellent. Number Four is Body Language. So, obviously, you have body language on the stage that you don’t have in a book. It was so funny. We were playing Code Names last night. People couldn’t help but, when they were sharing their word, using hand gestures. Hand gestures are so clarifying for people. So, what do you do when you’re a natural speaker and you’re trying to write, and you don’t get to use your hands?
Cheri – And it’s going to be all the body language. Are you leaning forward? Are you leaning backwards? Do you have a hand on your hip? Is that the tone that you’re communicating? A raised eyebrows. All of that. So, this is going to become a drafting process, where you get it out, but you come back through. You do one round of revisions where you’re really reading it, because this is where your voice comes out. You’re really looking for the possibility of a misinterpretation of tone. This is when early readers will come in really valuable, because a phrase may be playful to you, but to them it’s insulting. They heard it a completely different way. The phrase “I can’t believe you’re wearing that.” So, depending on your editor, and your own personal style guide, some of that can be altered by the use of bold or italics or whatever it is. If you’re traditionally published, your editor with have their own personal preferences on that kind of thing. Just be aware that you may mean something one way, but because you can’t use your hands to clarify, or your facial expressions, just be aware that you need to be extra clear. You may need to add a little more writing around it to make that extra clear to the reader.
Kathi – What is your fifth thing that we have as speakers that we don’t have as writers, and how do we translate it?
Cheri – It’s going to be Vocal Range. You have your voice. We talk about your voice as a writer, but on the stage, you have your actual personal voice as your primary tool. It’s not so much what you say, but how you are saying it. If you’re about to say something that could be misinterpreted, then you can really exaggerate it for effect. Whether you’re trying to be super-sarcastic, or super-soft and serious, you get to use your voice for that. What I find is that natural speakers are often crushed when they discover that their written words are so badly misunderstood and misinterpreted.
Kathi – It’s vocal range, but it’s also vocal stylings. Am I saying something with a sarcastic bent, those kinds of things, that translate so beautifully on the stage and how do you do that on a page?
Cheri – You know, it’s going to come down to practice again. You need to learn your style. There’s going to be certain things you’re going to find that don’t work well. You’re going to find a rhythm and a style that works for you as a speaker who writes. We’re back to getting a trusted feedback team who can say, “Yes, that sounds like you.” or “Oh my goodness, no. That doesn’t sound like you at all.” You’ll start to find the things that work for you. There’s no cookie cutter recipe that works for everybody. Part of it is, leaning in to that disappointment. “Wow. I thought this was me and they’re misinterpreting me, or misunderstanding me.” That’s actually good feedback to listen to and start paying attention to.
Kathi – It was interesting. We were working on book titles here at The Red House. I came up with a book title for one person. It started with “Oh…”. I said, “Those dot dot dots make everything.” Kathleen Kerr, the editor, said, “Oh, the dot dot dot. You have to keep that.” It’s a verbal cue. You know what’s coming next. Having those things; knowing those things. There’s only two ways to do this: Practice and reading. When you see how other authors have done it, not to copy them, but it’s to say, “This is the way they were able to express sarcasm. This is how they were able to say, “I was yelling.” without saying “she yelled”. Those kinds of things.
Cheri – What you’re describing is using other works as a mentor text or as a template. So, as you’re reading, copy samples like that and put them in a binder. You don’t need a lot of them. Just a few of those things will become useful.
Kathi – Amy Poehler. Amy Poehler is all I need. Oh my goodness. Okay, guys, we’ve got through half of these. I’m really proud of us for staying focused and being able to do this. Especially since one of us is a speaker. So, we will be back next week with How to Move Your Message from the Stage to the Page with Cheri Gregory. Cheri, thanks so much for being on Communicator Academy.
Cheri – Thanks for having me!
Kathi – Friends, thank you for being here. We love you guys. It’s been so fun here during writer events season, hearing about how all of you just look forward to listening to Communicator Academy, how we’re in the shower with you. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that. You’ve been listening to Communicator Academy. I’m Kathi Lipp. You’ve been given the best message in the world. Now go share it.
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