Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Speaking of Speaking. ...

by Rachael Phillips

Some writers become writers because they love words and don't like people. Others like people, but their fellow Homo sapiens make them nervous. Suggest that as authors, they should cultivate public speaking, and they take the first space shuttle to Neptune.

Do you fall into this category? Unfortunately, you may not find many markets for your fiction on Neptune. If you prefer this super-low profile, fine. If not, perhaps a few pointers will help send you rocketing back to communicate with earthlings who might buy your books.

First, find an opportunity to speak. This does not have to involve television cameras. Groups abound--knitting klatches, third-grade Bible school classes, NASCAR fan clubs--as well as reading and library groups. Choose the least threatening, most relevant-to-your-book group and offer to speak. Most groups love meeting an author. They love you even more if you're free. But speaking gets your name out and helps sell your books.

Study your audience. Are they married-forever couples who watch Gaither videos? Or college singles who cannot compute without Power Point presentations? Mixed ages/backgrounds? If unsure, ask your contact person and plan with the group in mind. Ponder what purpose God may have for this event. Ask what your audience would like best to hear. Then deliver.

Write it out. A 30-minute presentation often means many drafts, but we're writers, right? And you can use this material for another speaking opportunity or article.

Practice. My initial efforts are so awful, I don't even want God to see them. But a full-length mirror has proved His tool, teaching me how to stand up straight, pull in my gut and smile, even when I screw up (it also motivates me to lose a few pounds). I test-fly my words like paper airplanes. Does this sentence soar? Or sink? Will this gesture enhance my talk or make my audience think I'm swatting flies?

Finally, practice before a loyal friend who will applaud your pluses and honestly critique your minuses. Spouses? Maybe. But after your speaking gig, will you still speak to each other?

While this may appear overkill for a reading club get-together, you can always informalize your speech. Taking it up a notch proves much harder. Practice answers for any questions. I've found it helpful to re-read my book, especially if it's been a while. Forget your character's name, and your gig may prove shorter than you expected!

Preview. Arrive early for your talk. Connect with your contact, unpack props and set up your book table. If you are using technology, test it. Thoroughly. If necessary, exorcise it. I double-check podiums because I wear bifocals (the wrong height can blur my notes into blobs). I also suffer from drop-itis, so I use a loose-leaf notebook for my notes, not notecards. Keep a glass of water nearby to drink when your voice cracks or the audience doesn't get the joke. Scan your notes. Check for stuff between your teeth. Now you're ready to meet new friends! Greet everyone and tell them how glad you are to see them.

Finally, preach. You may not deliver a three-point sermon, but during any speaking engagement, you represent Jesus Christ, whether sharing your historical research with the Lions Club or giggling through your comic romance with a grandma group. Well prepared, you can relax and let the Holy Spirit use you to touch others.

Hey, speakers, what tips will help your fellow writers avoid the "run-away-to-Neptune" syndrome?


  1. I've found that belonging to a Toastmasters Club helps me gain confidence and hone my speaking skills. I can't practice longer speaches there, but it helps overall because I can speak to a non-judgmental audience but still get critique, and I also get to see what works or doesn't for other speakers.

    (Now if only I can get Blogster to accept this comment.)

    Kathryn Page Camp

  2. I guess I'm not the only Toastmaster in the group. Thanks for your comment, Kathryn.

    Thanks for the good pointers, Rachael. I appreciated the blog.

    Jeff Reynolds, DTM (Distinguished Toastmaster)

  3. I keep wanting to join the local chapter, but always manage to forget. Thanks for the reminder, Kathryn and Jeff!

  4. I've been to Neptune. No agents. The chicken's good, though! :-)