Beth Hautala

Children's Author


Audience || Who Are You Talking To?

I'm not very good at public speaking.

No really. Trust me on this.

My biggest problem is the actual speaking part—the opening-of-my-mouth-and-making-cohesive-words part.

I can make my way down the aisle and up the platform. I can even walk with relative confidence out to where the mic and podium stand. But the words are a bit of a struggle. Know why? You can't unsay things.

I know, right?! The pressure!

This is part of why I love writing so much. I can un-write things all I like, and in fact, I am getting to be better at un-writing and re-writing than I am at just plain 'ole writing.

You can just about imagine the trouble I had in speech class. I'd get my speech all written out and it would be great. I mean great. And come speech day I'd make my way to the front of the class, look out at my audience, open my mouth, and this is what would come out:

cbio7lvbnajh,tbp27gf,nma v;oih.,fm g4p9u4b.m vkjh[04ytkad f.,mn4q[gn,ma v/

It wasn't pretty.

But fortunately, I wasn't alone. There were several of us who seemed to struggle similarly. And so our speech instructor devised a plan. Blindfolds.

Brilliant, right?

Come speech day I would turn in my perfectly written speech, my instructor would blindfold me, and up to the front of the class I would go. I would stand there momentarily, pray I was facing my eager, tittering classmates, and open my mouth. And this is what would come out:


Hear that? Me too.

It's the sound of me dying.

Our speech instructor tried this on all of us in turn—even the ones who didn't struggle with their delivery in the least. And though it was embarrassing, we learned a valuable lesson.

We spoke better (or, some of us were at least able to make sounds) when we could see who we were talking to.

I've heard that radio djs spend time envisioning their listeners, which personalizes their broadcasts and as a result, garners regular listeners. Who wants to listen to a guy who sounds like he's talking to a blank wall?

The same is true of writing.

Do you have a story to tell? Is it amazing? Is it the best thing since the marriage of chocolate and peanut butter!? Who is it for?

Young Adults? Are you sure? How do young people talk these days? Are you using their slang or are you dating yourself and your work with buzzwords and outgrown terms?

Are you writing for kids? How is your vocabulary? Are you talking down to your readers or making them stretch on tiptoe for meaning and content?

Writing for adults? Which ones? Where do they work? Live? Play? 

Knowing your audience means the difference between saying this:

cbio7lvbnajh,tbp27gf,nma v;oih.,fm g4p9u4b.m vkjh[04ytkad f.,mn4q[gn,ma v/

And saying this:

Once upon a time . . .

And hey, if you are still working at figuring it out, don't worry. You're among friends!


I'm the girl up there at the front of the class, trying to take off her blindfold. I'm beginning to realize that I like to see who I'm talking to.

Something to ponder this week: Look at your current WIP and define your audience, first in broad terms, and then more specifically. Name your readers, if you like. Develop them in your mind. And then write for them.