Monday, 27 June 2011

Tips for Authors Giving Talks: Everything Else

1. If you make references to a book, website, address, there's bound to be someone in the audience who needs it spelt out in great detail, and then they're going to want to check they've got the exact spelling. Pre-empt this by preparing a handout with all the references/websites/info on it. Hand it out at the end (or they'll spend the whole talk reading it), and tell them this is what you're going to do at the beginning so they don't need to make notes while you're talking.

2. Another given in any audience is the person with the endless question. I've sat in audiences where the speaker has nodded politely as the questioner has gone on and on and on, and willed the speaker to shut them up. Don't let this be you - it's perfectly possible to move them on while being polite.

3. Always have more material than you need. I make sure I have a few extra points or topics which are disposable - if I'm running ahead of time I'll use them, if I'm running late I ditch them.

4. Wear something interesting. When I'm a audience member I get fed up when I feel the speaker hasn't bothered with their appearance. And if I drift off in an author talk I can always wonder where they got their shoes/shirt/bracelet from. Lots of authors have a signature outfit eg Jacqueline Wilson with her rings, Minette Walters with her trilby.

5. Establish beforehand what equipment you'll have, such as a visualiser (my favourite bit of kit), AV, power point etc. But come prepared for there to be nothing, not even a chair. It happens.

6. Don't trot out the same speech to every audience. Prepare afresh each time, and that way you won't get bored with the same material. Yes, you're going to be covering similar ground each time, but add new material, play around with what you've already done. It should be different each time.

7. Practice, practice, practice. Say your speech aloud - don't mumble it. Do it in front of the mirror, the goldfish, the baby. I'd be wary of doing too much in front of your nearest and dearest - they want to be helpful but criticism can be very deflating and lead to a loss of confidence, and confidence is everything in this business. One big speech I gave nearly got derailed when my nearest and dearest, on hearing the new thing I was planning, commented that I had to have balls of steel to think I could carry it off. This was disconcerting, to say the least. I went ahead and did it, but had a horrible flutter of nervousness in the seconds beforehand, which could have spoiled the whole talk. I've not done it since.

8. There's often someone in the audience who is distracting. I once had someone in the audience, right at the front, who was frowning and shaking her head all the way through. She looked as if she was occasionally muttering something in a bad tempered way. I tried to concentrate on the rest of the audience but out of the corner of my eye I could see this lady who looked as if she was disagreeing with everything I said. At the end she came up, and I braced myself to be told how useless I was. To my surprise she apologised. The audience member she'd been sitting next to, she explained, had been giving a very irritating running commentary on what I'd been saying and she'd been utterly fed up with her - not me.

9. Remember the 3 Es: Enthusiasm, Energy and Enjoyment. They go a long way in entertaining an audience. If you don't feel enthusiastic about your subject or you're listless then the chances are you won't enjoy it. Get your energy levels up by jumping on the spot before you go on, develop a mantra that gees you up mentally - if you're prone to sit there thinking 'it's going to be a disaster, I'm going to die' change the record to 'it's going to be great, it's going to be fun'.

10. Remember that you can always fake the 3 Es, and fake confidence. I'm a naturally shy person. I get anxious and self conscious at parties and retreat into my shell. But I do have an alternative persona that I can slip into, and she's never nervous, always has energy, is endlessly enthusiastic. She takes control and is boundlessly self confident. She's not me. But then, who's to know I'm faking it?

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...

Thanks, Sarah - I'm glad I sent that Tweet! I do hope I get the chance to hear you giving a talk in the future... especially if it involves the topic that involves balls of steel! In the meantime, I'm glad to have a really practical set of tips, should I be asked to give a talk again. I think your final point is the one that's hardest to master, but one with comes with the right sort of preparation. I thought I was good and ready last RNA conf, but with hindsight I can see how many pitfalls I walked right into! Thanks again!

Chris Stovell said...

'which comes' even.
Note to self. Engage brain before pressing send.

Beth Kemp said...

I've enjoyed this series. Very sensible, practical advice on preparing and delivering talks. Thank you!

Sarah Duncan said...

Chris, I'm glad it's been useful. I think the main thing to remember is that everyone in the audience wishes you well.

Beth, thanks for the feedback. I was worried I was going on for too long (cardinal sin when giving a talk BTW) but there just seemed to be lots to say on the topic.

Penny said...

Thank you, thank you! Really practical stuff, all of it.

Though I might have to do the offstage jumping bit very gently... it's the knee, don't you know...

Sarah Duncan said...

You and me both, Penny.