Public Speaking for Artists

by James Thatcher

You’ve prepared a wonderful exhibit of your artwork. Now preparation is the key to making a wonderful presentation of yourself and your ideas on opening night!


Artist James Thatcher presenting

Artist James Thatcher presenting.


Avoid “Artspeak” at all costs—people intellectualize as a defense mechanism! It’s natural, but don’t allow it—be listener friendly and break it down to laymen’s terms. Intellectualism makes for difficult speaking, awkward phrasing, and poor comprehension among your audience.

Do not ad lib. I discourage this because of the tendency to ramble, to over speak, and over intellectualize; while losing focus and track of time. It’s too easy to forget important aspects of your exhibition and process.

Write. Fear is often about the unknown, so planning is the key to a successful artist’s talk experience. Write your speech about what you know, and be bold. Make your artist’s talk worth listening to… stay focused on what is really important to this show, and this time in your career.

Readability.  Write two pages of two or three-sentence paragraphs; this will give you about five minutes of artist’s talk. Perfect! Your audience will be very grateful for a five-minute talk. This length allows you to keep (and respect) your audience’s interest. Also, use 16 point font and double space between paragraphs for readability. This will make it easier to keep your place as your talk goes forward.

Read very slowly. Listen to yourself as you read. Is any wording awkward to say out loud? If so, change it;  if it’s hard to say, it’s hard to understand. Your words need to roll off of your tongue so that they will flow into your audience’s ear.

Visualize as you practice: How will you move? Where are gestures important? Where do you need to use emphasis? How loudly do you have to speak to be heard? Practice at full volume! Time yourself, and read very slowly. You know what you saying, but listeners are hearing it for the first time—give them time to process your words and ideas. Also, practice looking up from your notes and making eye contact with your audience.

Practice more. Listen to public speakers. What are they doing as they speak? What is their cadence? Work with this as you continue practicing. Experiment with your timing, your pace, and gestures.

Speak with Power.  If you become emotional as you speak I encourage you to press on with your talk. As you boldly continue you will eventually work past the shaking voice and tears and become very strong. I don’t understand the process but your emotion transfers into great power. Do not stop and try to gather yourself. Do not apologize for your emotion. Press on and look for when the emotions begin to change into that power—this is very moving for your audience.

The beauty of all this practice is that when you’re in the middle of your moment, you’ll be familiar with where you are in your talk, with what you are doing, and where this is all leading. I have found this feeling to be extremely comforting. You’ll know that the time to emphasize or gesture is coming up, that you’re building up to your best line, your big point. You’ll know it’s almost finished and you realize that everyone is silent, watching you and intent upon your words. And rightly so.

Afterwards, it is very gratifying to receive applause in the wake of this kind of effort. To be thanked and congratulated on the depth, strength and courage of your talk is very empowering. To have listeners think, “Wow, they can speak too!” takes the opening night experience to a new level of professionalism and fullness.

Congratulations–Nice talk! It is a pleasure to hear people speaking boldly about what is important to them. Your presentation creates a bond with those present.

You will get better. It will become easier. You will command the situation and begin to look forward to these opportunities. Who knew?

I’ve had paralyzing stage fright since the second grade. In retrospect, this prompted my artwork as a way to express myself, privately. In recent years, church provided opportunities to say important things. I began to write my thoughts down and practice, which lead directly to this kind of preparation for other opportunities. I wish you every success and victory over fear in all that you do.


James ThatcherArtist and guest blogger James Thatcher creates large-scale abstract paintings in his New York studio, using Surrealist automatic drawing techniques. Find out more about him and his artwork by visiting his website.


  1. Thanks for the opportunity to share, Carolyn. If readers would like to see the fruit of this approach to public speaking, Best wishes to all!

    • Hey James! Great piece. I am hoping to do more public speaking in the future. It was never my thing and used to scare me to death. But I have enjoyed all of the events I ahve done so far. Your tips are right on. I will use this article to be more organized in my preparation for future engagements. -Lis

  2. Great tips James – personally, I love singing (and love musical theater) but I have suffered from debilitating anxiety and stage fright (to the point of literally having nothing come out of my mouth when I would audition) since I was a child as well. But the key was to keep trying, keep putting myself out there… the more I’ve done it (and with less down time in between) the easier it got. I often still end up with my stomach in my throat when I solo, but deliberately breathing deeply and slowly always helps and is a key component, I believe, in calming down as well 🙂
    Mahalo for sharing your wonderful insights!
    ethyrical artist

  3. Thanks for your response, Donia. How much courage does it take to continue to “put yourself out there?” Whew–especially in the theatrical/performance venue…there just isn’t any other option but getting out there! Do you rehearse mercilessly? Are you meticulous in your preparation and then find freedom in the moment of performance? Or are you just gutting it out?

    I enjoy your diptych/multiple images! Thanks again!

  4. Some great tips James and very important indeed. The skill of public speaking is one which can be learn and should be. Practice more is my personal favorite for improvement.

  5. James—Thank you so much for this article and your tips on speaking for artists. I have a radio interview tomorrow and your insights are gold.

  6. Thanks so much Brennen, and congratulations on your interview. Your interviewer will make you comfortable and keep it conversational, so I anticipate that you’ll do well. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to get to the station, have a tour of the studio and get situated.

    How did you come upon the article? Did you search for “public speaking tips”?

    Best wishes–Warren Buffet said in an article recently that public speaking was the single greatest contributor to increasing your worth. How about that?

Speak Your Mind