Speaking and writing. They seem closely related, don’t they? And yes, they often are. A speaking ministry can lead to published books, and authors often find the need to polish their speaking skills to help connect with audiences who will become their readers, or to help market their books.
But one hurdle speakers who want to write often find knee-skinning is the truth that the ability to speak and the ability to translate that gifting into the printed page of a book proposal, much less a book itself, are two different things.
“I’ll just put my sermon notes into chapters. Ta da! A book!”
“I’ve given this talk to hundreds of women’s groups across the country. I’ll put it in a Word doc and find clever chapter titles. And a book is born.”
“If I can stand in front of a banquet room full of people hanging on my every word, surely it can’t be that hard to turn what I said into a book.”
None of the above are true. And here’s why.
Speaking and writing are naturally different forms of communication.
A speaker and a writer share words in common. But speakers also use facial expression, timber of voice, tone, gestures, and sometimes other visual props in their communication. In a book, the reader sees no face or hand gestures, hears nothing but what hovers in their imagination (except, of course, for audiobooks), and often has no graphs, charts, or colorful images to help support what’s being “said” on the page. Writing leans heavily on ink on the page and word choices alone. A speaker uses eye contact to connect with the reader. What does the page of a book use?
Speaking audiences and reading audiences are different in many significant ways.
Speaking audiences came to the event for any number of reasons. The food. The fellowship. Maybe because of the speaker. They know they’ve committed to a limited amount of time. If they aren’t comfortable with the topic, they can hang on. It’ll be over soon. 🙂
Reading audiences purchased or borrowed a book hoping the book’s contents would offer them hope or insights or encouragement on its topic. How long will they need to read in the several hours’ long process of reading before they start to see signs that their needs will be met in the investment of those hours?
A speaking audience is primarily outside of the safety of their own home while listening. They may be with a group of friends who are reacting to the topic and taking cues from them. Or they may be among strangers, but are still affected by other attendees.
A reader is likely reading alone. The words on the page and the reader. If they laugh, they laugh not because of others, but because of the words. If they are moved, it won’t be because others were, but because the words moved them.
Writing requires more of both the reader and the writer.
A speaker can in the moment adjust to the temperature of the audience. If it’s obvious a point is not landing well, a speaker can instantly use another illustration to explain, stop long enough to clarify the concept or point, skip ahead if the audience seems bored, and make any number of other adjustments. The written page does not offer those advantages.
Readers are required to quickly assess if the author behind the words they’re reading can be trusted…without the advantage of seeing and hearing that author in front of them. They need to interpret how the words are meant to be emphasized and interpreted. Has the author asked a rhetorical question or one that needs an answer? The author’s face can offer no clues.
Speaking and writing complement each other, but can’t simply mimic one another.
If a speaker or pastor’s latest topics have deeply resonated with their audiences or congregations, doesn’t it seem logical that they could simply translate them onto the page and expect a book contract? No. Even if all that has happened prior to the talk is interacting with the speaker in the hallway or over the pre-talk meal, or if all the audience has witnessed is how the speaker has interacted with the host team or connected to the audience with that opening humor moment, the audience already has a sense of who the speaker is, of the speaker’s heart and passion. In the case of pastors, the hearers listening to those sermons likely know the pastor well. Quirks, style, and when the pastor is speaking something tongue in cheek.
This is key. A book reader does not yet know the author. A quirk may appear as a mistake or typo. The style may be hard to determine in the first few pages, thereby putting off or even offending the reader because of the inability to see the smile on the face of the speaker when the words are said to an in-person audience…or virtual. So a book must be constructed differently than simply regurgitating a talk that has been well-received in a speaking circuit.
A book will also allow for a slow-unfolding of concepts that of necessity need to be expressed quickly in a 45-minute talk.
There’s more. But the hope is that this will help you begin the process of examining the differences between speaking and writing, and why a speaker who wants to write has far more to do than simply commit his or her words to paper.
What major differences do you see between words on a page and words spoken from a podium or platform?
What an outstanding post! Thank you, Cynthia.
Another difference I notice between speaking and writing has to do with sound. Whereas the audience’s physical ears pick up the sounds surrounding a live, in-person presentation (external sound), the sounds on the pages of a book depend solely on the words used by the author (internal sound).
Thank you again, Cynthia, for this insightful post, It is a keeper!
Thank you, Wendy. Yes…SOUND. I teach a class on Writing for the Ear. 🙂
Your head is really hurtin’,
and every second grates,
for just behind the curtain
the audience awaits,
and they’re already thinking
of stumping questions they might ask,
and you’ve started drinking
from that life-saving flask.
And now the introduction!
You step out to the spotlight;
now does the startled query come,
for all you have in sight
is a drongo who says how-di-do
mate, could you tell me, where’s the loo?
Peggy Lovelace Ellis
A university creative writing professor once told his listeners that there are two languages: the written and the oral. We should not write the way we talk. We write formally, publishers basically require it, yet in speaking we can choose the words that best fit our audience at that time and in that place. For example, we can talk in regional colloquialisms to capture a particular audience, which could have the opposite of our intentions in other regions.
And that’s part of the problem with attempting humor in writing, too. Humor translates so poorly many times in writing , just like those “opposite of our intentions” idea.
Excellent point, Peggy!
And even though writing is by nature more “formal” that can simply mean more formal than speech. But writing should still sound more conversational than textbook-like. It is truly an artform to accomplish the balance.
Actually, I am learning how to speak properly and increasing my writing skills. But by reading this blog I learned a lot so I wanna thanks to Cynthia Ruchti.
You’re so welcome.
Wendy L Macdonald
Dear Cynthia, these words of yours are part I of my dream as an inspirational writer: “If they laugh, they laugh not because of others, but because of the words. If they are moved, it won’t be because others were, but because the words moved them.”
Part II of my dream is that the words God inspired me to write motivate readers to draw deeper trust and faith in Christ.
One of the major differences I see between books and speeches is the need for brevity in spoken words. Attention spans have waned over the years. A speaker must be succinct. Whereas a writer can be succinct one chapter at a time so that the reader is sure to come back for the next installment. But because it’s a book–and not just a speech–much opportunity exists for meeting readers’ deeper needs.
A speech may whet the appetite of a heart towards the author’s words, but a book can and should fully satisfy it.
This is how I’ve come to fall in love with many voices. Including yours, dear Cynthia. (YouTube interviews and talks are great ways to whet one’s appetite for inspirational books.)
Thank you & blessings ~ Wendy Mac
Wendy, you said so many important things in your comments. Even writers deal with reader attention spans. Many are more used to scrolling than lingering. But a skilled writer can stretch and expand that attention span with compelling, every-word-counts writing.
Wendy L Macdonald
Congratulations on your much-deserved honor of receiving the 2022 Agent of the Year Award from ACFW. I’m not surprised. May God continue to richly bless your faith, your writing, and your agenting. Hooray!
Kristen Joy Wilks
Thank you, Cynthia. So thought provoking! Since I live at a Bible camp, I hear speakers all the time. Especially those speaking to children and teens must prove themselves to these difficult audiences by kind and respectful interactions outside of chapel time. It is the speaker who plays GaGa Ball with the campers or who sits and listens to them share about their struggles and hurts who is listened to most attentively by a young audience. I hadn’t thought about that before in connection with non-fiction books, but an author also introduces themselves to the reader. They show if they are trustworthy be giving those with an opposing opinion a fair shake (using their best arguments rather than their worst ones), their word choice and personal stories invite the reader into their lives. Vulnerability and thoughtfulness are so key. Yes, I could see this creating a steep learning curve as speakers learn this new skill. Do you think it is harder or easier to learn to speak because of your writing or to learn to write because of your speaking? I realize this may largely depend on a person’s natural gifting as well.
I do think it depends heavily on personality and skills. But many aids can be gained from both disciplines for the other. And in either case, it won’t be automatic or unintentional.
One sweet benefit of speaking is the immediacy of the response. I love connecting with women across the country when I speak, whereas I may not meet readers unless they’re already friends. It’s lovely to have someone say, “You truly spoke to me tonight, and my life is changed.”
Such a blessing.
One benefit of social media would be the opportunity to get to know the writer/speaker and their personality, their character which would help in interpretation, whether reading their work or listening to them. Someone recently said that her main character in her book said a quick prayer … using the Lord’s name, of course, and a reader thought she was using the Lord’s name in vain. But those who knew the author’s character trusted that wasn’t the case.
And congratulations on ACFW Agent of the Year!
You brought up a great point, Shellie. And thank you. The MAJORITY of readers will not have insight into the author’s personality when the choose the book from a bookshelf or online. So that’s important.