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Preparing for a Personal Appearance

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger on Jan 12, 2011 10:47:55 AM

I was fortunate enough to get an invitation to speak to a group of kids, parents, and teachers a few weeks ago. It's an invitation that would have sent me into a panic-induced coma less than a decade ago, but not anymore. You see, I had a problem with public speaking that almost prevented me from putting together a coherent sentence if I was speaking to more than three people at a time. But I forced myself to get out of my comfort zone in 1999 by taking a sales job that I had no aptitude for, and I slowly learned how to talk to people. The groups grew larger and larger over time until I was comfortable speaking to a room full of people. It became easier to do, especially when I realized that the audience wanted me to succeed as much as I wanted to succeed. It's as uncomfortable for them when a speaker bombs as it is for the speaker.

I'm not a professional speaker, and the audience knows it. I enter the room with as little pressure on me as possible. I don't memorize anything, I don't write a word-for-word speech, and I prefer not to use slideshows. I like when it's just me and an outline of topics I want to cover. Here's a list of ways I prepared for my latest personal appearance that you may want to apply next time you're planning your own:

  • I asked the organizer why the audience would be attending the presentation. If they were coming to hear me, then I knew I could focus more on my books and my journey as a writer. If they were coming to find out more about publishing and writing, then I would focus more on the business of writing as a whole. Turns out on this occasion it was going to be a mixture, so I created an outline that broke the presentation into three sections: the current state of the publishing industry, my place in it, and my writing process.
  • I prepared a few pages of what I'm currently writing to read to the audience at the end of the hour-long presentation.
  • I gathered copies of my books to give away after the presentation.
  • I gave myself plenty to do on the day of the presentation so I wouldn't harp on what I was going to say that night. The more I think about a speaking engagement, the more nervous I make myself, so keeping busy lets me effectively block it from my mind and go into the event feeling loose.

As cliché as it sounds, open with a joke. I like to refer to the person who introduces me because he or she usually says something overly glowing and totally undeserved about me. It's easy to come up with a self-effacing line when you follow such an introduction.

I considered the appearance a rousing success. I spoke for an hour and fifteen minutes, signed copies of my books until I ran out, and then promised those remaining that I would return when I had more books and finish the signing. They were thrilled, and I'm scheduled to return next month.

Look for opportunities to do some public speaking. The interaction you have with a group of people is invaluable. You get a real feel for the people you're trying to reach with your writing, and you build a special relationship with the people who are ultimately going to be your word-of-mouth campaign. Remember, your audience is pulling for you to succeed - they are on your side!

I'd love to hear about any experiences you may have had addressing a group about your books or writing. Any tips or advice you'd like to share?

Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.

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Oct 25, 2013 12:32 PM JaneBIVL    says:

There's a lot of great information in this post, and I'm grateful. I wanted to pipe up, though, on one point: "Start with a joke." I coach people in live presentations for my living, and I watch hundreds of audiences a year react to speakers. I respectfully submit that audiences do NOT vibe well with most jokes that launch a talk. Instead, they smile blandly or laugh enough not to be rude, but spend their time waiting for the meat of the matter to show up. That opening 45 seconds is too valuable to waste on something that doesn't have the impact you need and want to have!


I have a suggestion that will do what you HOPE a joke will do, which is break the ice, without losing the impact of the first moments of your talk.


There are two reasons speakers like the joke trick. First is purely mechanical: it makes you exhale. Nervous people hold their breath, which prevents them from taking a deeper breath and relaxing. Laugh even just a little bit, and you're biologically forced to exhale and you instantly feel better. SO you feel more at ease, and miss the fact that the audience is still waiting for something that matters to happen to them.


Second, tellimg a joke makes speakers feel like the audience already likes them, and as if a connection has already been made.But audiences also have to wade through your joke while you make yourself feel more comfortable, and wait till you get around to "us."


So try something more resourceful. Exhale on the way up -- take a sip of water, and you get the same mechanical reflex that laughter gives you. Or laugh to yourself, as if you're about to have a highly enjoyable time. Both will help you exhale. Now you can get a deep breath.

Then make your first words a promise to us in the audience: "In the next 15 minutes, you'll know (XYZ about your topic)." Use your talk to deliver that promise. Alternatively, start with a story that sets up the point of your book.


We work with major book authors -- two are out on tour right now -- and I promise you, this works better than a joke! Audiences, especially in the Age of Twitter, will appreciate that you're not treating them like it's 1999.

Jun 21, 2014 9:45 PM poetbrypaul    says:

I'm a poetry performer, so when I booked an apearance at a local library I had put together a show and had a friend of mine accompany me on keyboard. To prepare, I rehearsed, made sure I had my poems memorized, worked on stretching, taking deep breathes-and I made a video of myself rehearsing to watch and study the way I move. Some good advice I might give to an author about speaking in public is think like a performer or actor, maybe do what I did, practice in front of a mirror or do a small video of yourself talking about your books and get an idea of not only what you might say, but how to present yourself in a way that people are excited to read your books. Look confident and look professional and your audience is likely to be interested in what you have to say.

Nov 26, 2014 5:49 AM Roseap    says:

I start with an introduction of my self and then the book and then what the book is about and why I'm speaking to the group. I decide what I am going to speak about and write an essay about the topic the day before to align my thoughts to the topic. In this way I can read my own thoughts before speaking, instead of allowing myself to be distracted by any nerves about standing in front of others. When you get comfortable with your audience you can joke with them.