Thursday, 23 June 2011

Tips for Authors Giving Talks: How Not To Be Boring

1. Involve the audience. Get them sticking their hands up, answering questions, waving pieces of paper, eating chocolate.

2. Be unpredictable. Bang tables, scream, jump up and down, run into the audience. This is also useful if you think people are nodding off - especially the screaming. That'll wake 'em up.

3. Be unpredictable early on. Everyone will be very attentive as they wait for you to do another unpredictable thing. Then they'll forget. Then do something unexpected again.

4. Pitch your material to your audience. Do research to find out what sort of things they're likely to be interested in. Are they a general audience, in which case celebrities or something local are usually good bets, or a writer/reader audience, who'd rather have something about the technicalities of writing.

5. People like the idea they're getting some inside info, so give it to them.

6. People need to hear what you're saying or they'll drift off. If you're not miked, the easiest way to pitch your voice so it carries is to talk to someone in the last row. You'll automatically adjust your pitch so you can communicate with them. If it's a dark auditorium there's usually an illuminated Emergency Exit sign at the back. Talk to that.

7. Keep your face up when you are talking especially if you're working from a script. I've had training at drama school on how to keep my face up when working from a text. You learn to hold the script up high then drop your gaze down, memorise a line or two, look up and say them, then look down again for the next couple of lines. It's a really hard skill to master. Much easier to work with index cards and bullet points, so you talk freely around your topics, only looking down for prompts. Watch out if you've been given a low lectern. The natural thing to do is put your notes on it, which means you have to look right down to see your script. If you have to work from a written text then copy it into a big font size so you can read it easily.

8. Vary your tone, vary your pace. Last weekend I was at my nephew's wedding and he gave a fantastic speech - you'd expect it, he's a politician. It started with a joke, then it went a bit general, then he did an emotional bit where he spoke directly to his bride of how much he loved her (not a dry eye in the house) then he brought it back to a general, but audience inclusive section. Brilliant stuff.

9. Jokes help. Self deprecation is good too. If something goes wrong, laugh. Be light, be playful. Even if your book is very serious, it doesn't mean that your talk has to be nothing but doom and gloom from start to finish.

10. If you're using a power point presentation, don't repeat what's up on the screen. That is soooo boring. Everybody reads the screen, then is bored as you repeat it. Better to have some good images up on the screen which you talk around.

How to choose your reading tomorrow....

There are still some places on the How to Sell a Novel day course in Bath on 3rd July - click here or contact if you want more info.


Chris Stovell said...

What a thoroughly useful set of posts, thank you. I'll particularly note those tips from your drama training, like 'talk to the exit' and 'look 'em between the eyes' which will, I hope, stop me looking down or freezing when I make eye contact!

Sarah Duncan said...

I was once at a play in the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry when I had a long monologue to deliver from the front of the stage where you could see the audience quite clearly. The illuminated green 'running man' at the back was my focus for the whole thing or I'd have lost my nerve.

The between the eyes trick is also very useful if you engage in staring contests - you'll always win.