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?