Okay, so most writers are introverts who are more comfortable sitting behind a computer than standing in front of a crowd. That’s why we chose to be writers, right? Well, guess what? In order to sell your book you have to be able to give talks at book signings, do media interviews, and speak at events such as conferences and workshops or webinars. Does that thought terrify you? Riddle you with anxiety? Relax, public speaking will be forever more a breeze if you follow these tips:
- Be prepared. If you’re supposed to talk about your book or writing process or whatever, make sure you know (a) how long you’re expected to speak, (b) if you’ll be sharing the stage with other writers or experts and (c) if there is a certain topic or angle they want discussed. You don’t want to come prepared with a 10-15 minute speech and then find out you’re expected to speak for a half hour. On the flip side, you don’t want to have a 20-minute speech prepared and then find out you have 3-5 minutes. I experienced both in the early days of my writing career. Another thing that happened to me was one time I came prepared to talk about my newest book since the gal mentioned it specifically when she made the speaking request. When I got to the event, there was a large poster on the door featuring a different book! I had to change gears quickly to give the audience what they were expecting. So it may sound like a no-brainer but be sure you are clear about your topic, especially if you write in multiple genres like I do. Sometimes you’ll be asked to speak about something other than your book so you may need to do some research beforehand. Lastly, if you are speaking at an event you may be part of a panel rather than a solo speaker. If so, be sure you are clear about your panel discussion. Is it a Q & A or are each of you expected to speak on a certain subject or what? I like panel discussions because there are usually 2-6 others on stage with you. I have found that you can speak as much or as little as you like.
- Practice. Once you have written your speech be sure to practice it using a timer. Is it really fifteen minutes or more like eight minutes? Do you know it well enough that you don’t have to keep looking down to read your notes? Is it entertaining and informative? Insert a bit of humor and yourself into your talk and the audience will love it. They have come to hear you so be sure they get to learn a little about you. Ask in advance about the set up. Are they expecting a large audience? Will you have a lapel microphone or a podium microphone? I prefer to be able to move around as opposed to being “trapped” behind a podium. If you’re anxious about public speaking, however, you may prefer the security of a large podium. It is also good to be mentally prepared for a large audience. If you’re expecting a dozen or so people and you arrive to find more than fifty that might make you even more nervous. Of course you never can tell so it is good to be able to go with the flow. I have given book talks/signings at small venues and had surprisingly large turnouts and vice versa.
- Get experience. Be sure to book some speaking engagements even if you have to do them for free or a nominal fee. You will get experience so that you will feel comfortable in front of crowds. If you book them then you can control them. Do an event at your favorite bookstore or library or a group you belong to. Seeing familiar faces in the crowd will help put you at ease. You can also ask people you know, such as family and friends, to tell you what they thought of your talk. Do they have any helpful suggestions?
- Wear something comfortable. Don’t wear something that you are uncomfortable in or just don’t feel right wearing just because you think you should “dress up.” I suggest you wear something “casual dressy” because you don’t want to show up in stretch pants or your favorite old sweater. You want to make a good first impression but you don’t need to overdo it. I am especially careful about my shoes. I don’t want to wear a pair of shoes that I can’t stand in and walk around in for only a short period of time. When your feet are killing you it is distracting and this is bad news. Find a mirror before you go “on stage” to make sure your hair is in place, you don’t have lipstick on your teeth, and all your buttons and zippers are where they should be!
- Have fun! Let your enthusiasm for your book plot, characters, and so forth shine through. Share why you had to tell this story. Explain why you made this character the way you did or why you set the story where you did. If you write nonfiction, share some good advice and antecdotes. Be sure to allow enough time for a brief Q & A after your talk. Believe me, once the first person pops a question, they flow after that. The audience will connect with you if they get this interaction. And if you’re doing a book signing afterwards, sales will be much higher as a result.