I invited author Sally Jenkins to share some of her tips on public speaking. Here’s her advice for anyone planning that nerve-wracking first author event:
All writers, whether traditionally, self or unpublished, need to learn the skill of self-marketing. If the world doesn’t know you exist, it isn’t going to read your work. Social media is a great publicity tool but is impersonal and the posts are soon forgotten. Nothing beats getting away from the computer and talking to readers. Personal contact lives in the mind far longer than a tweet or a gif.
Author events are a great way of generating this personal contact and libraries are a good venue for authors new to addressing an audience. Most libraries are keen to increase their footfall and become community hubs rather than just book depositories, therefore they welcome author events.
Preparation is key to a successful author event and below are some points to help you in the construction of an attention-holding author talk:
- Plan to speak for around 40 to 45 minutes, to be followed by questions from the audience. The whole event should last about an hour.
- Divide the talk into ten minute chunks. Each chunk should focus on a different topic, such as the inspiration behind your book, the research needed along the way or your typical writing day. This regular change of subject will re-ignite the attention of the audience and give you, the speaker, a burst of energy.
- Have a memorable opening. My current author talk is about writing a psychological thriller. I start by teaching the audience ‘how to make money out of murder’ and produce a selection of murder weapons as visual aids. Having grabbed their attention, I switch to writing-related topics.
- Don’t read the talk from a script. Make bullet point notes and talk freely around each bullet point. This will enable you to make eye contact with the audience and build a good rapport.
- Accept that a little bit of stage-fright is good. Adrenaline sharpens your performance. But don’t let it overwhelm you – focus on sharing your enthusiasm for books and writing with the audience.
- Include a maximum of three readings from the book and make them short, two to three minutes is sufficient. Unless you are a trained actor, it’s difficult to hold audience attention when reading aloud. If you need glasses for small print, reproduce the extract on A4 paper in a large font. This will enable you to read without glasses and maintain better eye contact with the audience.
- A few months before the event, join a Speakers’ or Toastmasters’ Club to practise speaking in front of an audience. Both organisations will provide constructive feedback on how you’re doing and enable you to gain experience.
- Take some books to sell! Also useful are a cash float for giving change and some business cards in case anyone wants to book you to speak at their WI or other organisation.
Well done on holding your first author event! It’s OK to feel exhausted! Now, take some time to analyse how it went and then start planning the next one. Good luck and enjoy!
Sally Jenkins is an author and speaker. In 2018 she represented the Midlands in the National Speech Competition held by the Association of Speakers Clubs. Her book, Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners, is designed to hold the hand of the novice speaker. It contains information on constructing a talk, managing speaking engagements and creating speeches for special occasions.
Sally blogs about writing, reading and life at https://sally-jenkins.com/blog/
Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners is available from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Public-Speaking-Absolute-Beginners-Confidence/dp/1795575182/