Not all authors are natural speakers, but it is becoming more and more necessary for authors to develop their speaking skills. Presentations, appearances, interviews, and other speaking engagements are an increasing part of how authors build and connect with their platforms. To make the most of those opportunities, you—the author—need to develop your speaking skills.
No one is born a stellar speaker. It takes time and practice to become skilled enough to not only deliver a presentation but also handle the questions and unexpected circumstances that come up in public appearances. Though in no way a comprehensive guide to public speaking, the following tips will help you get started on your way to becoming a better speaker:
Know your audience: Before every speaking engagement, take the time to learn about your audience. Who are they? What do they do for living? What is their experience with your topic? What do they want to learn or hope to gain from your presentation? Answering those questions will help you develop a targeted presentation that will have a greater impact than a cookie-cutter template speech.
It’s not about you: Yes, you likely got the speaking engagement because you are an important person in some respects, but no one goes to a workshop or luncheon just to hear how great some stranger is. They want information, to be entertained, or to somehow improve their lives. Your presentation should provide value to the audience, not just promote yourself.
Practice, practice, and then practice some more: You can almost never be too prepared for a presentation. Develop your materials ahead of time and practice your delivery. Time yourself, see how long it takes for you to get through the material uninterrupted, and then allow time for questions and banter from the audience. Film yourself if possible, and look for nervous tics, lengthy pauses, or other distracting habits you may not notice while you are talking.
Make a checklist: You don’t want to show up to your presentation without important handouts, computer files, or—in the worst case—your speech itself. Make a checklist of all the items you need for your presentation and mark everything off as you load your vehicle so you don’t miss anything.
Have a way for them to find you: The point of public speaking is to connect with potential readers and clients. Don’t show up empty-handed. Have business cards with your contact and book buying info (e.g. website) with you. If you are able, have copies on hand for back-of-room sales. Just don’t turn your speech into a sales pitch. If you provide value, they will buy—and they will also want to seek you out for other information and additional speaking engagements.
Be on time: Plan on showing up at least twenty minutes early. This way you can familiarize yourself with the space (if you haven’t done so already) and make sure everything is in working order and set up the way you need it to be. Plus, it’s a sign of respect for the presenter to be on time. If you are late, you disrupt the whole schedule, which is not good for your reputation.
Meet with your audience beforehand: Don’t hideout backstage while people are filing in to their seats. Take that time to shake hands and learn a few names as people are walking in the door. This helps you break the ice and warm up the audience. Plus, it helps cut your own nervous energy, since you will have established a rapport with the audience.
Also, don’t forget to smile, be gracious, and by all means say thank you! You are not the only speaker available on your topic (unless it’s a super niche topic). Don’t burn bridges or do anything that could hurt your reputation. After your presentation, follow up with the organizers and any contacts you met while there. Cultivate those relationships and ask for feedback. Each time, you’ll get great tips and insights as to what worked and what didn’t so you can continue to improve as a speaker.
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Shennandoah Diaz is the Business Development Assistant at Greenleaf Book Group, a publisher and distributor supporting independent authors and small presses. Diaz develops educational materials for authors in addition to managing Greenleaf’s social media, writing case studies and white papers on the publishing industry, and coordinating Austin Publishing University.