Tuesday, August 11, 2009

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.

Next time, we’ll cover Practicing Your Talk.
Helen Ginger, a freelance editor, book consultant, blogger, and writer, teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. She has a Bachelor’s in English and Speech Communication and a Master’s in Speech with a specialization in Oral Interpretation. Before taking up writing, she taught Public Speaking at San Antonio College.

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  1. I'm printing this one out, Helen. And tweeting it! I'm trying to improve my public speaking, but it's uphill for me.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. That's right - don't trying reading your speech. Practice, practice, practice!

    L. Diane Wolfe “Spunk On A Stick”

  3. I usually print the entire speech out, but make sure I have in bold the key points. That way, if I get a memory lapse I can zoom down on something to say.

    I don't read the entire speech because that would make it boring to the listeners.

    Morgan Mandel

  4. Perfect timing, Helen. I'm giving my first talk on September 19 and working on the presentation right now. I've done speeches before, but this is so much more personal. I'm printing this as well. Thanks.

  5. Excellent start to a series of posts that I will definitely follow. I've actually TAUGHT public speaking myself, but one can always learn from other professionals. thanks for doing this sharing, Helen.

    The Old Silly

  6. All good points here, Helen. Look forward to the series. As an old "stand up in front of the class instructor," I'm pretty comfortable doing this...That's not to say I'm very good at it, just comfortable. Grin

    Best Regards, Galen
    Imagineering Fiction Blog

  7. Great tips, Helen. I will keep those in mind next time I have to prepare a talk. I used to hate to do that, but finally overcome that when I started using a stage trick. It is easy for me to go on stage and be someone else, so I decided to be someone else when I am speaking. I assume a persona that is somewhat different from the reserved person I normally am.

  8. That's a good idea, Maryann. You probably could have been an actress.

    Morgan, sounds like you've had practice at writing out the speech and highlighting the key words. If you've not done public speaking much, though, I recommend you take only the keywords to the podium. When all eyes are staring at you, it's tempting to read.

  9. Oh I need this one--badly! I tried to take Toastmasters and it was fierce!! I so want to be a speaker but the fear gets me:)

  10. Helen, as you know from my blog I hate public speaking but have made a vow this year to speak at every oppotunity so as to get better. You advice is great- thanks so much. I am implmetning quite a few of those points straight away.

  11. Public speaking terrifies most people. My students are always reluctant, but I force them to do it because I used to be one of those silent students in the back of the room, filled with opinions but afraid to give them voice.

    Of course, my students never believe me because I talk non-stop now. The more you do it, the easier it gets. Once you release that inner performer, she likes to get out more and more!

  12. That's true, K.A. It will get easier, esp if you learn the most effective and easiest way so that you don't set yourself up for failure.

  13. I'm printing this out, too. I am one of those people who managed to grow old but have yet to out grow my fear of public speaking. I'm looking forward to the next post.

  14. One thing I've found, if I can make people laugh I'll sell more books.

    Giving talks has never been a problem for me--training from being PTA president all those many long years ago. I've always found if I know what I'm talking about, there isn't a problem--since I'm the one who wrote the book, I know what I'm talking about.

    And one thing I've learned is to make eye-contact with the people who've come to hear you--and smile a lot. Look like you're having fun even if you're not.


  15. Then we get published... I wish. I keep telling myself if I could just get published maybe I'd get a chance to speak, but maybe I'm going about this backwards. I'd love to do the speaking bit.

  16. Eye contact is very important, whether you're giving a talk or doing a reading.

    Sheila, you might think about teaching some classes since you like to do public speaking.

  17. Great tips from you and others here, Helen. For those of you who fear public speaking - and I used to be one of you - try this:

    When you reach your speaking spot, whether you stand behind a table or walk to a stage, stop and take 2-3 deep breaths and smile. Let your gaze wander across the audience, whether it's 2, 20, or 200. Make direct eye contact with a few. Do those things while you get your breathing under control. Then focus on a spot just over everyone's heads for the first few lines until your hands stop sweating and your voice evens out. Then relax and finish your talk. You'll enjoy it and so will your audience.

  18. That's a thought (and I used to teach chess to kids - loved it). But I'm not sure who would hire me to teach. Wouldn't I need to be qualified first?


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