As an author, you may be comfortable speaking at your own book events, which you’ve initiated, but you might wonder how to prepare for and to take fullest advantage of speaking engagements that go beyond your book, such as when schools, conferences, and other venues invite new speakers and panelists.
At the Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau, we represent an unrivaled roster of speakers, many of whom shape national conversations, on and off the page. Our website, www.prhspeakers.com, showcases our award-winning and bestselling talent, from Pulitzer Prize winners like Junot Díaz, Jennifer Egan, Colson Whitehead, and Isabel Wilkerson to number-one bestselling authors, including Ta-Nehisi Coates, Gillian Flynn, John Green, Cheryl Strayed, and Markus Zusak.
As we’ve worked with such talent at venues across the United States and throughout the world, we’ve observed the important role public speaking can play in some authors’ careers, as a complement to their published books.
If you are looking to make the most of your speaking platform, consider these tips and tricks from our list of experts:
How to Prepare for Speaking Events with Broad Audiences
- Know the audience. Set up an advance call with event organizers to better understand what attendees want from your appearance. Who will be in attendance? Tailor your presentation and its format and tone to suit them. During your presentation, mention a local news story or something of distinction about a school or conference. When visiting schools, make sure your talk’s content and length are age-appropriate, and take into account your audience’s comprehension level and attention span.
- Make good use of social media. Crowdsource from those who are active on conference or event hashtags before an event, asking them what they want you to talk about. It will help you connect with a new audience, who may have ideas you hadn’t thought of yet.
- Learn from the greats. Whether you’re at a conference or watching your favorite online TED Talks, closely observe and listen to how speakers deliver their messages. What do you like about each talk? What nonverbal cues resonate with you? What is the audience responding best to, and why? Is there anything you would change if this were your talk? Use these points to help you hone and enhance your own message.
- Don’t assume the audience has read your book. In most cases, speaking events will be attended by a mix of current and potential readers. When planning your presentation, make sure to sprinkle in content from or about your book to pique the audience’s interest.
- Develop powerful sound bites. In the age of Twitter and Facebook, people want meaningful quotes to take away from any experience, especially lectures. When preparing for your presentation, build in short, powerful messages that you want your audience to leave remembering and repeating.
How to Give an Impactful Speech to a Broad Audience
- Test the equipment. Arrive early at the venue to familiarize yourself with your surroundings, adjust the microphone, and test slides and video. If this is a remote event, test the equipment and software ahead of time. Even with preparation, technology can go wrong at the last minute, so always have a plan B, and be poised and ready to roll with any changes.
- Ask engagements to record the talk. That is, for your personal purposes, not to circulate—unless you give them permission to do so. One of the most effective ways to help you improve future presentations is to critically view video or to listen to audio of a previous engagement.
- Keep your energy up. As with any presentation, varying the tone and speed of your message can have a positive impact, as can repetition. For example, once you develop a “sound bite,” repeat and underscore that core message in your speech. (Plus, whenever an audience member repeats your message, it increases the reach and life of your speech!)
- Go off script. While it is helpful to have notes or your complete text handy as a reference, you don’t want to read a speech word for word. You can be more effective by looking at your audience. Strive to present your memorized speech with minimal notes on hand, even for presentations with slides, so the delivery feels natural to the audience.
- Stay true to your own style. Developing your own speaking style can be as important as having your own presentation style. Is your message inspirational? Personal? Conversational? Don’t try to automatically replicate presenters you’ve seen—just do what works best for you and your voice, and audience members will find it easier to connect with your message.
If you are published by Penguin Random House in the United States and are interested in knowing more about the PRH Speakers Bureau, please reach out to your editor or publicist. We work closely with our in-house colleagues in determining how authors might best fit our roster, and how joining us might help your career goals.
Heather Brown is Senior Marketing Manager for the Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau.