PUBLIC SPEAKING FOR AUTHORS
Organizing Your Talk
We spend hour after hour, day after day, month after month, in front of a computer, writing. For the most part, that’s what authors do. We write.
Then we get published. And realize we also have to speak … alone, in front of the room. With people looking at us … waiting to be entertained … hoping we’ll tell them the secret to finding an agent or getting published … or expecting us to enthrall them with a plot that will make them happily open their wallets.
When what we most want to do is hide in our offices and write. But we have to sell the book - and to sell the book, we have to speak. The good news is: To speak we have to write. We can do that. We’re writers.
Preparing for a speech or talk is not the same as writing a book or story, though.
1. You’re not going to write the speech out. If you do, then you’re likely to try to take the written speech to the podium and read it. Reading is for excerpts from your book.
2. If you’re doing a book tour that takes you from city to city, you can prepare talks on one or two subjects and you’re probably covered. If you’re giving multiple talks within a limited distance, then you’ll need multiple prepared talks so that readers coming to more than one event don’t hear the same thing over and over.
3. Come up with 3 or 4 topics or themes you can talk about related to your book. A topic may be geared to fit a specific group or organization. It may be a theme from your book. It might be fitted to the audience you know will be attending. But you should always be able to tie it to your book. Make a list of your 3 or 4 ideas.
4. Work on each topic or theme speech at a time (don’t try to organize four talks at a time - it’ll get too confusing). Put your topic or idea at the top of a blank page (one idea per page). Let’s say you’re going to talk about the theme of finding love at any age. Now, take that idea and come up with three points or things you want to say about finding love at any age. (Three points is manageable. Five points is doable, but no more than that.) List those points under the appropriate heading. Under each point, list about three things you could say, one of which is a direct reference to your book. There’s no need to make this a sell-sell-sell talk, but you can use your book as an example that shows what you’re talking about. The book references you make might be about the plot or about what you discovered doing research or people you talked to or places you visited.
5. Plan to wrap up your talk by tying all the points together. If you weren’t planning on taking questions as you talked, allow time for Q&A at the end.
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Practicing Your Talk
In the first part of this Public Speaking for Authors series, we covered Organizing Your Talk. Now that you’ve made your notes and have decided on the points you want to cover and have tied it all together, you’re ready to start practicing.
Remember, don’t write out your talk. Or, if you absolutely must write it out, then now’s the time to set it aside and work from your notes.
1. Sometimes, instead of giving a talk, you’re simply doing a reading. You probably won’t need notes for that, but practice what you’ll say about yourself (in case there’s no one there to introduce you) and what you might say about your book. Be sure you bring a copy of your book with you, with the pages marked that you’re going to read - the starting point to the ending point.
2. If you are giving a talk, know what you’ll say to introduce yourself and your book - even if someone is supposed to introduce you. You never know what might happen to delay that person. So be prepared.
3. Now that you know how you would open your talk and you have your notes about the talk, it’s time to Practice. Out loud. Scribble notes on your “outline” as you practice. Run through it several times. Once you think you have your talk down, put your main points or keywords on note cards or on one sheet of paper. (If using note cards, number them.) Then practice some more. Stand up and practice. Then record yourself. Play it back. Time the talk. There’s not much worse than thinking you’re talking for fifteen minutes, only to find people walking out of your talk because you’ve droned on for thirty minutes.
4. Type up your notes or put them on clean note cards. Do not use full sentences. Use keywords - just enough for you to glance down and remind yourself of what your next point is in the talk. Having one- or two-word notes is a crutch you can turn to if you need it. Writing full sentences or, worse, writing out the speech is a body cast that will end up making you stiff. If you’re reading your speech or searching sentences to find your place, you’re talking to your notes not to the audience.
5. If you’re not sure how to start and end the talk, remember the sage advice:
Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell them.
Then tell ‘em what you told them.
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Preparing for a Reading
Welcome to Part 3 of Public Speaking for Authors. We started with Organizing Your Talk, then moved to Practicing Your Talk. Today, we discuss doing the prep work for a reading.
Sometimes you’re asked to do a reading, either as part of a talk or as strictly a reading. Even though you know your book - you wrote it, after all - you still need to practice.
1. Find out how much time you’ll have for the reading. Deduct time for someone to introduce you - or for you to introduce yourself. Deduct time for questions and answers. Now, you have an idea of how much time you’ll have for the actual reading.
2. Choose a passage from your book that’s appropriate for the expected audience. If it’s an open audience or children might be there, choose something G-rated. I remember an author reading from a book as part of a Writers’ League event. He was hooked up to a microphone in an open space at Barnes & Noble, our host for the night. Everything was going fine until he got to a tense part of the passage. The more tense it became, the louder he spoke, until he was almost yelling as he read the F-word three times: Fxxk! Fxxk! Fxxk! Those of us with the League almost choked. The CRM’s eye got huge. And a man got up and dragged his kid out of the area.
2. Choose a passage that has a start and an end (especially if the end is a hook that will make your listeners want to buy the book and discover the end for themselves) and can be read in the allotted time. Choose a passage that’s moving or funny or scary or tense or … you get the idea. But it shouldn’t reveal the actual end of the book.
3. Practice beforehand. Record yourself and listen back. Are you reading in a monotone voice? Or are you using inflection and pacing to fit the piece? Are you rushing? Are you remembering to breathe?
4. Mark up your piece. If you don’t want to mark in your book, then type up the passage and print it out to read from. Mark where you want to pause for effect. Put an accent mark over words you want to stress or give a special tone to - or highlight them. Think about the words. What do they mean? How can you use your voice to convey that meaning? If this is really stressful for you, mark where to breathe. Seriously.
5. Practice some more. Make sure as you practice, you stand up, as you will during the actual reading. Look up, look up, look up - don’t train yourself to look down and read in a flat, lifeless voice - or you’ll do it at the reading. Pretend you have an audience and move your focus from imaginary person to imaginary person. Use your eyes and words to pull each person into the story.
6. If you decide to print out the passage, print it out in a large font so it’s easy to read.
7. When you finish reading, pause, look out at the audience. Hold for a beat. Smile. Wait for applause. Then open the floor for questions. After questions, let everyone know you’re available to sign. And point out that you have a sign-up sheet and would appreciate it if they’d fill out their name and email. Promise not to spam them, but let them know if signing the sheet signs them up for a newsletter or an email announcing the next book or what the list will be used for.
You’re done. The first one is always the hardest. But it gets easier. And easier. Trust me. I’m not a doctor and don’t play one on TV, but public speaking and oral interpretation are my specialties. That and knowing how to eat a banana underwater.
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Giving the Talk
So far in this Public Speaking for Authors series, we’ve covered Organizing Your Talk, Practicing Your Talk and Preparing for a Reading. Now it’s time to actually give the talk.
You’ve done your preparatory work. You decided what to speak on and the points you want to cover. If you’ll be doing a reading, you’ve brought your book with the marked pages. You’ve put your talking points or keywords on note cards or a single piece of paper. You’ve practiced and timed your talk.
Now, the day has arrived. It’s time to actually talk to an audience.
1. Dress comfortably. Look nice, but you don’t have to wear high heels or, for men, a suit, unless you’re comfortable in them. One time I was emceeing an awards event. When I got to the venue and saw the stage with its stairs, I did a U-turn, went back to my car, and changed my heels for flats. Very, very glad I did.
2. Get to the venue early. If it’s at a bookstore, introduce yourself to the CRM or booksellers. Thank them for hosting the event. Offer to sign stock after the talk. Check the staging for your talk so you’ll know where it will take place and whether you’ll have a podium, a microphone, etc. Make sure you’ll have a glass or bottle of water handy.
3. When it’s time for your talk, take your notes and your book and go to the podium. Smile. Keep your head up. Don’t stress out. You’ve done your preparation. You don’t have to rush. Set your notes on the podium where you can see them. No podium? Set them on the table and be prepared to half-sit half-lean on the table, if you can. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, sit behind the table, but be aware that puts a barrier between you and your readers. No table, no podium? Bring up a chair (or have one brought up when you were checking out the stage earlier). Standing is best, though, so everyone can see you and you can see them.
4. Stand up straight - on both feet. (Sounds silly, but putting most of your weight on one foot can result in fatigue.) Make eye contact with the audience. Relax and smile. They’re not going to bite and you’re not going to pass out.
5. If you weren’t introduced, tell them about yourself and your book. Speak clearly. Don’t rush through your words or your words will run together. Think about what you’re saying and make your voice fit the words. Don’t speak in a monotone. If you need to glance at your notes, do it. That’s why you brought them. But don’t stare at them. Your eyes should mostly be up, looking at people in the audience, even those on the back row. Looking at a person makes him feel you’re talking directly to him. It makes her a part of your talk, establishes a relationship and makes her invested in the shared experience.
6. When the talk is over, thank the audience and your hosts. If you’re also doing a reading, now’s the time. Keep it short. Tell the audience what page you’re reading from - if they already have the book in hand they often like to turn to that page to follow along. And look up at the audience - don’t bury your nose in the book. Use whatever tone is appropriate for the section that you’re reading - be it funny, tense, sad, whatever. There will be times when you read first, then talk. If the piece fits what you’ll be talking about and you want to read it first as an example, it’s okay to read first.
7. After the reading - or after the talk if you didn’t follow with a reading - open the floor for questions if there’s time. Relax. The hard part’s over. Now you can answer questions, then sign books. After the questions, let everyone know you’ll be signing books and urge them to sign your attendance sheet to be notified of your next book’s debut or to receive your newsletter, etc.
8. If you’re part of a panel, don’t hog the floor. Before the panel starts, set your book in front of you, slightly to the side, cover facing the audience.
When it’s over, you’ll most likely be surprised by how quickly the time went by. And looking forward to doing it again. Remember, a reader is more likely to buy your book if they have one-to-one contact with you. Much more likely than if they just see you sitting at a signing table. You want to become comfortable talking to people, doing readings and giving talks.
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