Wednesday, December 11, 2013

When Authors Engage in Public Speaking

by Patricia L. Fry

It's encouraged. It's sometimes necessary. Authors often engage in public speaking in order to promote their books. But not all authors are prepared and trained for this activity. And not all authors even want to participate.
Let's look at the scope of authors' attitudes and aptitudes when it comes to public speaking. There are authors who:
  • are absolute naturals in the public speaking realm.
  • absolutely hate the thought of standing before an audience.
  • are game speakers, but have poor skills.
Is speaking one of your book promotion activities? Do you hope to start speaking to large and small groups as a way to gain exposure for your book? Please, before you launch out on the speaking circuit, heed the following advice:

  1. Join Toastmasters and actively participate for at least a year. You will benefit in ways that you can't even imagine. Go to Toastmasters International for a list of clubs near you.

  2. Volunteer for opportunities to speak. Take leadership of a project at work or for a charity. Offer to go around and educate citizens on a political issue or to raise funds for the library expansion, for example.

  3. Attend other speakers' programs. If you are observant and alert, you will learn volumes about public speaking by listening and watching. How does the audience respond to the speaker? What techniques seem to work (and what don't work) for this speaker? What would you do differently to put the audience at ease, make this a more pleasing experience for the audience, etc?

  4. Get involved with a storytelling group. This is a particularly fun way to improve your speaking skills. You'll also get some training and practice in using vocal variety.

  5. Hire a voice coach. If you have a soft voice that doesn't carry well or a voice that is not pleasant to listen to, a voice coach might be able to help. You'll find voice coaches listed under music teachers in the Yellow Pages.

  6. Find a mentor -- someone whose speaking abilities you admire.

  7. Start locally. Before heading out to parts unknown to speak about your book in front of huge crowds, plan speaking gigs locally. Speak to the women's group at your church, your local Optimists or Rotary Club, a gathering at the museum or bookstore or even a group of neighbors, for example.

Public speaking rule breakers.

  • Many speakers let their voices trail off at the end of every sentence. The audience can hear the first part of their sentence, but they have no idea what pearls of wisdom might be lost in the whispers at the end. Sometimes this speaker will deliver complete sentences inaudibly while looking down -- obviously not interested at that moment in engaging the audience.
  • Some speakers are not good readers. If you are not skilled at reading something out loud, don't do it while speaking. Especially avoid doing this secretly. In other words, if you plan to deliver your speech by reading all or part of it, and you do not have good out loud reading skills, forget it.
  • Mumbling is not cool. Inexperienced speakers will often speak at conversation level, not giving any thought or consideration to the people in the back of the room. Recently, I sat in on a panel discussion at a workshop. The panelists chose to sit instead of stand to address the standing-room-only crowd, which I thought was rude. And one man, whenever it was his turn to speak, would rest his elbows on the table and fold his hands in front of his mouth during the entire time that he was speaking.
  • Inexperienced or thoughtless speakers leave members of the audience out. When an audience member asks a question, it is rarely heard in the back of the room. I've seen many expert speakers respond to the question by engaging in a one-on-one conversation with this person while the rest of the audience is left wondering. Speakers, I urge you to repeat the question so everyone is on the same page. And then respond to the question so that everyone in the room can hear it.
  • Some speakers choose to sit down on the job. In a very small, intimate group or when the audience is sitting in a circle of chairs or on the floor, for example, speaking while seated is generally okay. But if you have a room containing six rows of chairs or more, you really should express respect for those in the back of the room by standing so that you can be seen as well as heard.
  • Even some professional speakers still use too many filler words. It takes practice, but you can rid your vocabulary (especially while speaking in public) of those filler words like, uh, ah, er. Also avoid connecting sentences by overusing "and."
  • Many speakers have trouble staying within the time allotment. Most programs or presentations are carefully organized. Each segment is designed to fit into a specific time slot. I've seen speakers completely disregard their time constraints and foul up the entire evening's program. Not cool.
I've written many articles on the topic of public speaking. The following is excerpted from one of them. This list offers specific tips to help get your started on your way to successful public speaking:
Speak out. Many inexperienced orators speak too softly or they allow their voices to drop toward the end of their sentences. Practice speaking up and speaking out. Whether addressing a large audience or a small group, always speak so that you can be heard even in the back of the room.
Repeat audience questions. When someone asks a question during your presentation, always repeat it before answering it. This ensures that everyone hears it.
Make eye contact. Move your attention around the room as you speak, making eye contact with each person.
Don't apologize. Avoid sabotaging your presentation by making excuses for not being well prepared or for poor speaking skills. Stand tall, appear self-assured and you will gain the confidence of the audience.
Use vocal variety. Make your talks more enjoyable by using an assortment of vocal tones and pitches rather than speaking in monotone. If you need help developing vocal variety, practice reading to children. Use your highest and lowest voice and everything in between.
Eliminate non-words. Inexperienced speakers generally use so many filler words that Toastmasters actually have an "ah counter" at every meeting. This person counts the number of filler words each member uses in the course of the meeting. Filler words include uh, ah, um, er and so forth.
Eliminate poor speaking habits. Rid your vocabulary of stagnant verbiage. Break yourself of those mundane phrases you like to repeat, such as, "yada, yada, yada" or "know what I mean?" Likewise, watch the overuse of words like "really." Saying "I was exhausted" is a stronger sentence than saying, "I was really exhausted." You can explain how exhausted you were by saying, "I was exhausted beyond anything I'd ever experienced before," or "I was so tired I could have slept for a month."
Be prepared. You will be more at ease if you know what to expect. Find out if there will be a podium or microphone, for example. How many people do they expect? How will the room be set up? Also, have your props or notes organized so there will be no annoying fumbling during your presentation.
Know your audience. And gear your speech to the needs and interests of this particular audience. When I talk about the local history, I give a completely different talk to students at local elementary schools than I do when addressing civic organizations or historic society members.
Anyone can get up in front of an audience and speak. How well you do it is what counts.


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