March 7, 2016

Author Turned Speaker: 7 Tips for Success

Barbara speaking at a writing conference
Imagine with me for a moment:
  • You published your book to great acclaim.
  • People can't stop talking about your characters and story.
  • Requests for you to speak to groups flood into your inbox.

Great, right?

Writers dream of success, but public speaking? Not on their radar.  What do you say to your audience?  How do you manage to keep your knees from knocking together while you speak?  What if you make a fool of yourself?

These seven tips will help you:

1. Understand that your audience wants you to succeed.
Most people dislike public speaking, so they get that you're nervous.  They are pulling for you, not against you.  That means a slip-up will not make them hate you.  It will tell them you're human.  Don't sweat it.

2. Find out who your audience is.
 Are they readers, potential readers, or writers?  Each of these groups has different reasons for coming to hear you speak.

  • Readers want to know what you love about your characters. You've been talking to these characters for a long time, now there's someone who wants to talk about them with you.  Relax and have fun.
  • Potential Readers want to know why they might like your books.  A lot of times, they want to hear the same things the readers do but at a less personal level.  They haven't read your books, so they want to know who the characters are and why they should want to get to know them.  Give them a glimpse of what's going on in your story.
  • Writers want to know about your writing process. How did you get published?  What tips can you share with them?  What difficulties did you encounter in your path to publication?

3. Set a goal for your presentation.
Based on the audience, you probably know the goal but don't assume it!  Ask the person who invited you to speak about their objectives for inviting you.  Do they have a theme for the event that needs to tie into your presentation? Sometimes the event coordinator will share this with you up front, sometimes you have to ask.  Make sure you ask.

4. Ask questions.
  • How large is the audience?  If you want to provide handouts, you'll want to know this.  Also, you don't want to show up expecting ten people and discover a room packed with people.
  • Is there a microphone available?  Is it stationary or a lapel mike? If it's stationary, you can't move around.  If it's a lapel mike, ladies do not wear large, clunky jewelry.
  • What equipment is available?  If you plan to show a PowerPoint presentation or a video, you want to be sure the facility provides what you need or has space for you to set up your own equipment.
  • How should you dress? Your clothing should be comfortable, but you don't want to show up in jeans and tennis shoes if everyone is dressed in business attire. 
  • Where are you on the agenda?  If you are not the only part of the event, what else is happening before and after you?  Are you at the end of a long day when everyone is tired or are you the only presenter?
  • How long should you speak?  If you prepare for ten minutes, and they expect thirty, the question and answer session probably won't save you.  Likewise, if you plan for thirty and they want ten, you're in trouble.
5. Practice what you want to say until it flows smoothly.
Don't get up and read a speech.  Boring!  It's ok to have notes, but you'll come across more natural working from an outline of key words. Use those notes to practice, practice, practice until it becomes second nature to you.

6. Smile and have a good time.
These people want to be your friends.  They came to hear you speak. They didn't come to throw rotten eggs. If you smile and speak to them, they will like you, and you will be more comfortable with them.

7. Accept as many speaking opportunities as you can.
The more you do it, the easier it will become.

When I teach public speaking, I tell my students there is no pill for nervousness.  Your best antidote is to prepare so nothing surprises you and to practice, practice, practice.  You might never become comfortable speaking to groups, but it will get easier.  AND speaking to groups increases book sales.

What other tips would you share?



Photo courtesy of Rock Hill Writers' Intensive
and photographer, Craig Faris.
 

No comments: