Doing an author talk and reading or a public book launch can be intimidating if you don’t have much experience. And public speaking generally is daunting unless you’re one of life’s extroverts, which I’m not. I have done quite a lot of it in past incarnations, sometimes to hostile audiences, but it still makes me nervous.
I wouldn’t say the audience were exactly rolling in the aisles at a talk I gave recently in our local library, but I did make them laugh a few times. I was there to talk about routes to publishing, with reference to my own experience.
Here are a few tips:
1 Agree with the organisers how the session will run . Where is it being held? How big is the venue and how is it laid out? How long have you got? Will you take questions during or after? What are you going to talk about? How many copies of your book should you bring/they order? What publicity are they going to do and how can you help? Make sure you provide flattering biographical details for their introduction.
2 Prepare well in advance. As a last-minute merchant, I surprised myself by preparing my talk and choosing the readings a week before the event. This gives you the time to…
3 Practice. Getting the timing right is crucial. If it’s too short, the discussion will peter out. If you go on too long, heads will nod in the audience. Read your talk and your chosen passages out loud and check how long they take to read.
4 Go to the loo just before the talk: I don’t jest. This is very important. If you’re desperate for a pee, you’ll be stressed and it will show.
5 Jokes: should you use them or not? If you’re not used to cracking jokes, it’s probably better not to try. You should be yourself and not try to project a different image. However, if you feel comfortable, the odd, carefully-chosen joke can break the ice. It’s acceptable to take the mickey out of yourself, but not out of the audience.
6 Speak slowly. I have a tendency to go off like a rocket, so I type SLOWLY in large font across the top of my notes. If you read passages from a novel or a short story, allow dramatic pauses at appropriate places and don’t gabble.
7 Engage with the audience: don’t keep your head down in your notes. Look around while you’re speaking and look people in the eye. Ask the audience the occasional question that’s relevant to your talk: e.g. how many of them have read a certain book, been to a particular place, are writers themselves. That makes them feel more involved.
8 Question time: with luck, you will get a lot of questions. People always want to know what makes authors tick. Try to give concise but informative answers. Don’t drone on and deprive some of the audience of their chance to contribute.
It’s up to the organiser to intervene if someone is hogging the questions or going on too long, but you can always quietly indicate that someone at the back has had their hand up for some time.
9 Afterwards: if you’re signing books or if the organisers arrange coffee or drinks, continue the dialogue. For example, “You raised an interesting point about x, and I’ve had a few more thoughts.” People remember you for showing an interest.
10 Finally, enjoy it: authors need exposure and visibility and doing talks and readings is one way of getting them. The audience are usually with you and want you to do well.
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Copyright © Vanessa Couchman 2017, all rights reserved.