Secrets to Better Author Presentations
by Patricia Fry
How do you approach your live audiences? Do you give them what they expect? What do they hope for when they come to listen to you speak about your book?
For the most part, they expect to learn something and to be entertained. While a few people will come out to support you, most are in the audience because they want something from you. They are interested in the theme of your book. They want information, resources, insight, inspiration, and/or motivation. They want to know more about the history of the area, budgeting, pie-baking, dress-making, woodworking, flying, or photography, for example. If you’re a novelist, your audience is probably gearing up for a few hours of pure entertainment.
Most likely, you spend a lot of time thinking about your presentations and hoping that you will do okay. But do you consider your presentations from the point of view of your audience? Can you put yourself in their place?
Let’s say that you’ve arranged to speak to a group. (Note: most of the time, you are responsible for finding the venue and making the arrangements to speak. Sure, you’ll receive occasional invitations—program directors will hear about you and seek you out. But only if you’ve been giving a lot of presentations and getting a lot of publicity.) Anyway, you’re speaking to a group of armchair travelers or quilters, avid readers, businessmen/women, animal lovers, gardeners, hopeful authors, artists, etc. Here are my suggestions for a successful author presentation:
• Know who your audience is, approximately how many will be in attendance, and what their expectations are (based on the way your talk was promoted and the nature of the group or association). Also find out something about the space, equipment available, distractions, etc. I’ve had to speak outdoors while a book festival was going on all around me, on a moving tour bus, and in a gym with a noisy basketball game being played on the other side of the wall. Once I rewrote my entire speech while waiting for my cue when I saw the speaking challenges I would be faced with that day.
• Be clear about the program director’s expectations. Will you be speaking for fifteen minutes or ninety? Does he want a workshop-style program or a speech with a Q and A? Will you be able to sell your books after the presentation?
• If you plan to read from your book, do so only if you are very good at it. Not many people are. I sometimes read brief passages—generally anecdotes I want to use for emphasis and that I want to get exactly right. I’ve heard many authors read from their fiction and nonfiction books, and only a scant fraction of those were effective. It takes a pleasant voice, clear enunciation, vocal variety, the ability to pace oneself, and a professional quality when it comes to using pauses. It is also important that you continually acknowledge your audience while reading. You’ve probably watched authors read from their books with their heads down and their voices going into the book, rather than out into the audience. You rarely see the readers’ eyes—just the tops of their heads. If you decide to read from your book, know your material so well that you can take your eyes off of it often to engage audience members. However, instead of honing the skill of reading in public, I urge you to become a better off-the-cuff presenter.
• Prepare so well that you can present your material without notes and even deviate successfully and expertly from your original speech if you desire.
• Read your audience while you’re presenting. Pay attention to what piques their interest and spend more time with that. Notice when you seem to be losing them and make some adjustments.
• Plan audience participation—especially for longer presentations. I like to find out a little about each audience member (when the group is fairly small—six to twenty people, for example). Most audience members enjoy participating.
• Speak directly to each audience member. Ask them to say a few words about why they came to hear you or what their interest in the topic is. And then direct some of your comments to these individuals as you proceed with your talk. For example, someone in my audience might tell me that they are struggling to promote their local history book. Throughout my talk, I might point out a couple of things as I go along that would be of interest and assistance to that particular author.
• Set your rules. I sometimes welcome questions throughout my talk. Other times, I prefer to stick to my presentation agenda so that I can adequately cover a certain number of points. Then I will open the floor to questions. I tell the audience up front how I want to handle questions.
• Give, give, give. Some authors are afraid that if they give too much, people won’t buy their books. Actually, if your book is so shallow that you can tell all there is to know about it fully within even a ninety-minute speech, it probably isn’t worth much to start with. I try to stick to a theme throughout my talk—it might be “2 Steps to Publishing Success.” Or “How to Write a Killer Book Proposal.” While I include a lot of material from my book, I expand greatly on much of the information. And this is where entertainment comes in.
• Make it entertaining. I present a great deal of the information that I share in presentations through anecdotes. Stories generally have entertainment value. While it is important when you’re promoting a nonfiction book to provide information, resources, and some new ideas, don’t neglect the emotional value of what you offer. Decisions to purchase are often made at an emotional level. And you want to reach your audiences through their emotions.
Patricia Fry is the author of 40 books, including Talk Up Your Book; How to Sell Your Book Through Public Speaking, Interviews, Signings, Festivals, Conferences and More. (Allworth Press). It’s at Amazon.com in print, Kindle and audio. You can also order it here. Follow Patricia’s daily publishing blog.