There’s nothing more rewarding than connecting with fans at readings and speaking engagements. But this can also be nerve-racking, because not everyone is a natural public speaker. Whether you’re planning on speaking at a smaller event such as a book club or at a large conference, experts from the Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau and publicity teams share tips to help you own the room and make a lasting impression.
Know the Crowd
Familiarize yourself with your audience. Two weeks prior to the event, set up a call with the event organizers to better understand the following: What do attendees want from your appearance? Who will be in attendance? If there are other speakers, ask for an agenda and see how your presentation fits in with the program as a whole.
Tailor Your Talk
Even if the changes are minor, tailoring the presentation to your audience goes a long way to make a presentation feel personal. Throw in a local stat or company figure, or mention something of distinction about a school or conference. For school visits, make sure your presentation’s content and length of talk are tailored to accommodate age, and take vocabulary and attention spans into account.
Prior to your appearance, use social media to crowd source your followers and ask what they’d like you to discuss. Not only will this help structure your presentation, it also helps you connect with your audience better. Your readers will feel like they were part of the preparation process and in turn, they will be more committed to spreading the word about your event and books.
Prepare to Pivot
Be prepared to pivot during a Q&A or interactive session if the conversation takes a turn you weren’t expecting (either positive or negative). Think through answers to tough questions in advance. Practice with your publicity team or friends and family to feel confident and prepared before your appearance.
Promote Your Book Signing
If you’re doing a book signing after your event, be sure to close by saying that you are signing copies of your book at the assigned location and would love to meet members of the audience. Often attendees at festivals are running from one presentation to another and appreciate a friendly reminder that they have an opportunity to interact with the author.
Test the Mic and Equipment
Arrive early to take in your surroundings, adjust the microphone, and test any slides. If it’s a remote event, make sure to test all the equipment/software ahead of time. Realize that even when you do this, things can still go wrong at the last minute. Have a plan B and be ready to roll with any changes.
Assume Everyone Has Read Your Book
Expect that some attendees have not have read your book and plan your presentation accordingly. While you, or the person introducing you, should say that you are the “author of . . . ,” the best book presentations are not overt sales pitches, but rather sprinkle in stories from the book to pique the audience’s interest. Tell the stories behind the book.
Read Too Long a Passage
Use the venue as your benchmark and find a brief passage that will appeal to that audience. Authors who give engaging readings use compelling vocal delivery to emphasize key phrases, increase the tempo to build suspense, and modulate their volume to match the content. Also, try varying the length of your sentences, as demonstrated in this popular writing tip by Gary Provost.
Visuals really only work when they are just that, visual: photos, graphics, or the like that support what you are saying. Bulleted words/phrases are boring and detract from the essence of the talk. With a large room or audience, make sure everyone can see the visual you are presenting, otherwise the reference will be lost.
Rely on Notes
Try not to read from notes! If you need them, use notes as a reference, not a speech to be read aloud word for word. There are many tricks out there to help you organize and memorize your speech, from memorization and brain training to even more out-of-the-box approaches.
Speak Too Quickly
Pace yourself to make sure your timing is just right. When speakers are nervous they tend to speak too quickly, which is never enjoyable to the audience. Don’t speak as fast as you do in conversation, and plan pauses in your sentences.
Speaking events are a fun way to engage with your readers and an effective way to build awareness of your books and your writer brand. Not every person finds public speaking natural, but with some preparation—and by mastering the dos and don’ts in this article—you’ll be able to tell the stories behind your book to any audience.
Andrea Bachofen is Associate Director, Publishing Development and Author Platforms for Penguin Random House.
Milena Schmidt is part of the Consumer Marketing Development and Operations Group.
With contributions by Stefanie von Beoczy, Senior Marketing Manager, Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau; and Lindsey Reeder, Senior Digital Marketing Associate, Penguin Random House Canada.