Monday, October 5, 2009

Tips for Authors to Use from the Speaking Platform

Elizabeth did such a terrific job yesterday with this subject that I had to chime in. Speaking is an invaluable skill for an author. Like all skills, the more you know and the more you practice, the better you’ll be.

Here are some of my favorite tips culled from 20+ years on the platform:

1.) Make that glass of water warm. Cold water stresses the vocal chords. This will cause a woman’s voice to sound more strident. So, request lukewarm or warm water. Non-carbonated, please!

2.) When you show up early, take the time to greet people. I usually move through the crowd, shake hands, and say, “Hi, I’m Joanna and I’m your speaker today. Thanks for having me.” You’ll be amazed at the response! It’s hard to do, but once you try this, you’ll realize that you are among friends. Plus, take what you learn and use it from the platform. (See #3.)

3.) Compliment your audience. The best way is by doing your homework as Sue Ann suggested in the Comments yesterday. Know who they are and why they invited you. That said, you also compliment the audience by referencing what you learned about them. So, for example, I might say, “Elizabeth told me earlier that she’s excited about her new book. We’re all happy to have her join our ranks.” By mentioning an audience member I just met, I emotionally “step down” from the platform and join my audience. The technical term is “jumping the footlights.” All great performers do it.

4.) Take charge of your introduction. Don’t leave it to chance. Ask that someone introduce you, and then, offer to write your own intro. I print this up in 16-point type on colored paper and bring it with me in case my introducer needs another copy. In the intro, emphasize your connection with the audience. In August, I spoke to a Business and Professional Women group. I told them how 20+ years ago, I was one of their young careerists. By emphasizing your connection—whether it be your background or whatever—you are predisposing them to like you. After all, you have something in common!

5.) Defer to them. If you know someone in the audience, mention his/her name. Simply say, “I see my friend Alan Orloff out there. Glad you came, Alan.” It sounds infinitely corny, but it’s a surefire way to connect…and that’s the name of the game, connecting. (And your friend will appreciate the nod from the platform. Trust me—you’ll both look good.)

6.) Don’t read from your work verbatim. I learned this watching the great and generous John Lutz, author of Single White Female. Add “he said” and “she said” where appropriate so your piece makes sense to the audience. There’s a world of difference between reading to yourself and reading out loud. They won’t care if you “fudge” a bit by adding place-minders. In fact, they’ll appreciate it because they can relax as they listen.

7.) Remember why you are there. You are there to make friends. Yes, selling books is great. Yes, you are the speaker and their guest. But if something goes wrong, be gracious. If your time gets cut short, be brief-er. Don’t insist on your full allotment of time. If the introducer botches your name or the name of your book, just repeat the correct name and move on. If at the end of the day, people don’t walk away thinking you are a delightful, charming person, you’ve made a mistake by appearing. See, not everyone in the audience will want to buy your book. Not everyone will want to read your work. But if they like you as a person—FIRST—they’ll speak well of you. And that’s more important than anything else that could happen when you get the chance to speak.

8.) And yeah, always, always bring a handout. I like using paper with a full-color border. (Sometimes called “imprintables.”) You can buy it at the Dollar Store or any office supply store. It’s a perfect way to help the audience remember your name and visit your website. Shoot, I have enough trouble remembering my own name. How can I expect them to remember it, too? Instead, I print up something of value to leave behind—key points, funny sayings, whatever. Terry was right about this. (Read the “Comment” section from yesterday.) Here’s a real plus: You can write your notes on the handout, and the audience will think you are speaking verbatim. (Don’t tell on me!)

What more ideas? Visit my website:

And what works for you from the platform?

Joanna Campbell Slan
Photo, Snap, Shot—May 2010


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I love your tips, Joanna! I especially like your recommendation to greet people on the floor, then complimenting some of those audience members from the podium at the beginning of the talk. Great stuff here--thanks!

Mystery Writing is Murder

Alan Orloff said...

Thanks so much, Joanna. You (and Elizabeth yesterday) have given us tons of great tips. Being a relatively inexperienced public speaker, I'm going to use just about every one of them!

(And thanks for the nod from the platform!)

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

You are both welcome. Elizabeth did a super job yesterday. I just threw in these examples.

By the way, that nod from the platform always makes the speaker sound generous. You are sharing the wealth. A good thing for all involved.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

More great tips - I think "jumping the footlights" is one of the best things anyone can do. I also try to incorporate questions to the audience during my talk - the sort of "raise your hand if" thing.

I've found public speaking to be the single fastest way to spread the word about my books. Even if many books aren't sold, no one leaves without a bookmark (get there early and put them on the chairs).

I also try to give away something at every speaking event. Nothing major, maybe a book, apple scented candles, Thin Mint cookies, etc. People are given a slip of paper on which to write their name and e-mail address. After the drawing, I retain the slips and add the e-mails to my newsletter list.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

One more thing - if you are speaking at a luncheon or dinner, eat sparingly and watch what you eat. The last thing you need is to belch up at the podium! While it could be very funny, don't count on it. I was at an event with another author and they were serving chili, with raw onions! She and I looked at each other and started giggling, then opted just for the salad.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Sue Ann, I had a speaker friend who ate Mexican before a presentation. The result? As he put it, "Two exits, no waiting." He raced off the stage. Unfortunately, he forgot to turn off his cordless microphone. You can imagine the expression on the audience's faces when he returned. Suffice it to say, no carbonated beverages, no "iffy" foods, and avoid too much caffeine so you don't yammer like a chipmunk on speed.