Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Public Speaking for Authors: 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, you still need to 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.
Tell ‘em.
Then tell ‘em what you told them.

Next time in this series on Public Speaking for Authors, we’ll talk about Preparing for a Reading.
After graduating with a Master’s in Speech with a specialization in Oral Interpretation, Helen Ginger taught Public Speaking at San Antonio College. Now, she teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops - and blogs, tweets, edits and consults with other authors on their books.

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  1. I type out my entire speech and bold the key points so if I get stuck I have something to say. I don't read from the paper unless I'm really desperate and have had a memory lapse. If I had cards, I'd probably drop them!

    Morgan Mandel

  2. AT my book launch, I used index cards. It worked really well.I like the idea of putting down key words only, but I'd worry about my memory lapsing. I have many menopause moments.

  3. Great tips, Helen! And good advice on timing the talk. I'm always surprised at the length of what I've prepared--sometimes it's longer and sometimes it's shorter than what I'd intended.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  4. Karen, you can always have an index card for each point you want to make, then under that word, add several key words to remind you of what you want to say on that topic. And, remember, if you mess up, only you will know it. Just keep going and work your way back to where you left off.

  5. Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell them.
    Tell ‘em.
    Then tell ‘em what you told them.

    This is IT in a nutshell. At important as the 5 W's in journalism. Or is it 4? I'm not a journalist.

    It's how I learned to write ads and speeches.

    Great, Helen!

  6. Carol, we could add, start out with something to draw them in. Maybe something funny, but if that's not something you're comfortable with, find something else to hook them. The same way you need to hook readers of your book, you need to hook your audience to your talk.

  7. I use index cards (usually only one) with the key points so I don't forget, but seldom look at it.

    I think I'm comfortable because I know the people came to hear what I have to say.

    But two tips, watch your audience, if they seem to be losing interest, talk about something else. And always leave time for questions.


  8. Nice tips. Thanks. Still dreaming I might get to speak one day.

  9. Great suggestions. Another way authors can prepare to speak with confidence at their book event is participating in Toastmasters. Toastmasters clubs provide a supportive, positive venue to gain experience giving prepared and impromptu speeches. Find a club near you at:

    Christine Clapp
    Founder and president, Spoken with Authority

  10. Fortunately, I am okay with public speaking.I use Qcards and off the cuff. I will have brush up practice at my son's wedding soon, when I recite a poem I have written for them.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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