Some authors hate public speaking. The idea of getting up in front of a group gives them a nervous twitch. Not me. Whether it is a conference, retirement community, or church gathering, I learn something every time I speak. Since public speaking is demanding, I start work on my presentation a month ahead.
Recently I spoke to a group at a retirement community owned and operated by Mayo Clinic. “What Happens When You Type in the Basement for 38 Years?” was the title of the talk. As I walked out the door I called to my husband, “I hope I don’t wind up talking to myself.”
I didn’t. There was a good crowd and, more importantly, it was a receptive one. Thanks to my preparation, the hour-long presentation was a hit, and many people came up to talk to me afterward. What do you need to do before you speak to a group?
Identify key points. The number of points depends on how much time you have. After you’ve made a point, you need to support it with additional details, statistics, or a story. Stories are easier to remember than statistics.
Put your plan in writing. My talks have three main sections, introduction, body, and conclusion. Sometimes I list resources at the bottom. Action steps are printed in red. Examples: 1) Show my Rochester history book; 2) Invite audience participation; 3) Distribute new handout.
Include laughter breaks. Laughter helps people remember a point and you. Because I speak on serious topics, such as grief healing, I include humorous stories in my talks. I tell a funny story every 10 minutes or so. Laughter relaxes people, relieves stress, and keeps audience members interested in your talk.
Give yourself credit. My generation was trained not to brag. It’s hard for me to cite all the books I’ve written. But I’ve gotten better. Now I tell people about my 37 books (some are long, some are short) and take credit for them. Writing short books is similar to writing poetry and take longer to write.
Practice your talk. Before I give a talk, I practice it at least three times—often more. I note the starting time and finishing time to determine if my talk fits the allotted time slot. If my talk needs to be altered I do it immediately, while ideas are fresh in my mind.
Give people something. Many speakers rely on PowerPoint, but I still use handouts. Handouts are opportunities to share your website address and ordering information. At my recent talk I gave out flyers about my forthcoming book and bookmarks. Other materials were available on a small table.
Thank the audience. Always thank people for coming. End your talk with a laugh if you can. Instead of asking for questions, ask for comments, such as “Has this happened to you?” Taking about your books is a privilege and a perk. Make the most of every talk you give.