Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Speaking of Speaking

Crystal Laine Miller at her first speaking engagement (Imitating Bub Pope.)
You're a writer. If you haven't been asked to speak yet,eventually you will. If you haven't been published yet,now is the time to consider how you will handle public events and publicity surrounding your book.

At the ACFW Conference in Indianapolis this year I met author Jim Rubart in person for the first time.We'd had some correspondence on email due to ACFW business.If you haven't checked out his site for promotion and speaking, then you simply must.His fiction book, Rooms, has garnered all sorts of honors and awards, appeared on bestseller lists,but he's also a speaker, marketing consultant and has a company called Barefoot Marketing.Also check out his list of topics on his web site--topics on which he'll speak.He's done some workshops with our own Tiffany Colter and with agent Chip MacGregor that you may wish to look into taking.

*Think about this for yourself: on what topics would you be willing to speak?

Now here's what's funny about meeting Jim. Somehow he was under the impression from my emails that I am an extrovert.A-living-out-loud kind of person.Someone like Colleen Coble.But I am an introvert.This doesn't mean I'm shy, but it does mean I need more preparation and I need recovery time after a speaking engagement.I'm more likely to not say anything until I've thought it through.I may be somewhat on the line between extrovert and introvert as this was not true when I was teaching in school every day.I could sometimes teach off the top of my head because I was passionate about and knew my topics.If you are an introvert, then this is from where you can draw your topics--the ones you are passionate about and know well.

Here are some practical things from my speaking experiences:

1. Have water nearby. (Preferably with some lemon in it.) Don't drink
caffeine drinks prior. (For two reasons!*Ask me by email.)

2. Have your handouts stacked according to presentation and marked in your outline (if you use one) when to distribute. It's best to enlist someone to disperse these as you continue to speak, so if you do that, make sure you give some time to get these to your audience because this will distract, anyway, from what you are saying. Also, if you can, disperse prior to the speaking and then indicate about when they will need this, if at all.

3. Prior to speaking, make sure people can hear you. If you have a microphone, it would be good to do a test.Don't walk in front of the amp/speakers with the microphone, if you have one/them, because some systems squawk when you do that. Ouch!

4. Don't grip the podium if you have one. (ha) Relax. These are just people you are talking to about things you are passionate about, right?

5. Try to make eye contact with those in the audience. Don't just look in one spot. Try not to take it personally if someone is not looking at you. There are such people who are auditory learners and won't necessarily be looking at you, but will be paying attention.Kinesthetic learners may be fiddling with things, too.There might be someone who is asleep (I had this happen to me when I spoke to high school students.) Think positively and don't take credit for that person taking a nap....

6. Occasionally ask questions where the audience has to participate--like
"how many of you," "raise your hands," that sort of thing, because it engages
your audience.
But don't use it so often that it loses it effectiveness or gets to be distracting (like, they are counting how many times you say it. )Also, watch repeated phrases like "as such" or "you know what I mean?" or any other phrase that gets distracting--unless it has a point,of course.If all of a sudden a bunch in the back row jumps up and yells "Yes! Score!" then they're probably either listening to a game on their iPhone or you just broke your own personal record for saying, "As such."

7.No matter how serious the topic, start off with a little humor (if
to set yourself and others at ease. Then, set the tone with some sort of anecdote.Choose carefully.If you are afraid it will be offensive, do reconsider.

8. Make your own notes about how a favorite speaker presents himself. You can always learn from a speaker who holds YOU in the palm of his hand. I was struck during the elections here in the U.S. by the various candidates and how they spoke. I think the way two in particular presented their material certainly swayed their audiences, even if you don't agree with the message.

9. Always, always take into account your audience, their point of view and
what your purpose is.
Just like in writing!

10. Don't look down too much because your voice goes wherever you are
If you are constantly looking down as you speak, your voice goes down into your notes, not out to the audience. If you have a microphone, make sure you speak into it, but try not to "breathe"into it.If you have to cough, take your mouth away from the mike.

11. Wear something comfortable (if it cuts off your air, you will be sorry! ha)but also choose a color that enhances your appearance and personal coloring.People get focused on your appearance and can be distracted by the weirdest things, like your hair sticking up or that you're wearing orange.Color also influences what the audience will think of you and your message. I have written articles about this. Colors convey a message, too. If you have a friend there, have that friend make sure that you don't have underwear static-clinging to your skirt or that your slip is dangling around your ankles. (Men, you know what to check....)

I am by NO means an expert and I certainly could use more experience and tips on speaking. I like how fiction authors are offering topics to speak on to groups who ask them to speak. I think you will sell more books if you offer the audience more than just your fiction. Doc Hensley told us that you need to establish your expertise in order to garner attention to your work. (That probably gets into "branding.")

Also, I think it's nice to give "gifts" to your audience--plenty of bookmarks, or similar type things. Some speakers pass baskets of chocolate or candy.It's always nice to have a "door prize,"too. (Your book, for example.)

What kinds of advice do you have for us when it comes to speaking? What has worked for you?

Here's a story you can use ,if you want, for that ice-breaking humor :  
A hungry lion was roaming through the jungle looking for something to eat. He came across two men. One was sitting under a tree reading a book; the other was typing away on his laptop.

The lion quickly pounced on the man reading the book and devoured him. 

Why? Because even the king of the jungle knows that readers digest and writers cramp.

~Crystal Laine Miller


  1. I posted this on FB and Crystal asked me to put the comment here:

    One thing I learned is always dress one step up from your expected audience. [If they are casual, you wear business casual. If they are business casual, you wear a suit.] Also, pause periodically for effect. Use the triangle [left, right, center down the middle of the audience] and make eye contact. Of course, I include running around like a mad woman...but that's just me. laugh!

    I love speaking and if you can learn to enjoy it, it really helps you connect with readers and get your message out.

  2. I love to speak, too. It's getting me to shut up that's tricky...

    Seriously, some of the most fun a writer can have is talking about writing to a group of people who either are writers, or who aren't in the least connected with writing but who regard us with such a lovely awe because they still believe in the "mystique" of writers, and how we're such interesting people. I try not to do anything to dissuade them from that notion. :-0


  3. Most embarrassing moment was falling asleep in Margie Lawson's class. I sat in the front row. It was not her speech, it was my sleep-apnea.

    Margie knew me from before and forgave me. So yes, don't take it personal when someone falls asleep when you speak.

    Just don't fall asleep when you are the speaker!

  4. This is EXACTLY where I'm at in my writing career, so I appreciate your comments, Crystal (waving to Tiff!). I'm very much looking forward to speaking engagements to promote my books. Question I just encountered today (and since you mentioned bookmarks): Where do we get them? My publisher is small, and VistaPrint (where I printed my business cards) only produces rack cards or postcards. I'd appreciate any suggestions. Thanks so much! Blessings to you.

  5. Great advice, Crystal! I'm not a polished public speaker, but I've taught a lot of classes in corporate America. The thing I always find most effective is knowing my material. The more I know it (and the more excited I am about it), the more comfortable I am when I talk in front of a crowd.