Six Guidelines for Writers to Become Effective Speakers

Of course, writers can become effective speakers! But it usually requires some brief training and a shift in perspective. I became a writer after being a speaker. Just as I had to find my written voice, writers need to find their spoken voice. You would think it would be easy and natural, but sometimes there are obstacles. I have coached a few dozen writers to give book talks that promote the sale of their books at book fairs, libraries and business events. This is what I’ve learned to be true:

1. Writers usually prefer writing to speaking.
They like to mull over their words, select them carefully and take great pride in the way the printed words flow and create images that articulate their thoughts, information and plots. Writers prefer interesting words to common vocabulary. Sometimes those less common words create a “disconnect” between speaker and listener. If a reader doesn’t know a word, there’s time to go to Wikipedia. If a listener doesn’t know a word, going to Wikipedia will take him or her away from the speaker’s talk. Writers need to embrace conversational speech. These words may not be literary or fancy, but they will be understood!

2. Writers often script their presentations word for word.
This makes sense, right? After all, they are writers and writers write! The problem here is that whenever there’s a script in hand, there’s the likelihood that the script will be read. Reading a book talk, or any presentation, is death to an audience. Reading a passage from your book, however, is a great idea. It allows the audience to hear the author’s writing style. An author needs to have a speaking style as well as a written style if presenting to a live audience.

3. Writers often memorize their scripted presentations.
The evil twin to reading a script is memorizing one. Written language, read or memorized, lacks spontaneity and the energy of connection. Memorized written speeches are rarely engaging or conversational, which is what the average book talk audience requires to stay attentive. Written language is more formal than spoken language and less “down to earth.” Writers have the luxury of editing their written language while speaking is “in the moment.” An occasional word revision is fine, but constant verbal rephrasing and editing while presenting will make a speaker sound weak.

4. Less is more – Time
The number of pages in your book has nothing to do with the length of your talk! The average listener has an attention span of 20 minutes, yet most talks are scheduled for an hour. As a speaker, you are constantly competing with a listener’s tendency to “go inside” and think about what’s on their mind, rather than listen fully to what you have to say. Plan to talk for 20 minutes and allow another 15 for questions. Don’t worry about filling the time. Audiences like shorter vs. longer. Spend more time with the individuals as you sign the book they are buying. Everyone will be happier!

5. Less is more – Content, Details, Information
Don’t share everything in your book during your book talk or your listeners will have no reason to purchase it! Planning a presentation is a best practice. Although some people may be adept at “winging it,” most are not. You need a good flow to a book talk. One common organizational flow is: Background or Why I wrote this book (Inspiration/Need), followed by a description of the book or what the book is about and then a Sample excerpt. Wrap it up with a soft pitch to purchase a signed copy and you’re “in.” The reason you are talking about your book is to sell your book. You may not want to consider yourself a salesperson, but face it; you are and you need to be, but only in the very best way.

6. Know how you appear before a group.
As with all types of presentations, presenters will benefit from body language and presence coaching. How to stand, connect, engage and sustain an audience has much less to do with what you say, and everything to do with your presence both visible and invisible. If you will be taking your book talk on the road, a few hours with a professional Speech Coach is a smart investment.

On February 28, 2015 Eileen N. Sinett, CEO of Speaking that Connects, will be a featured speaker at the Winter Writers’ Weekend in Lambertville, New Jersey. She will “walk the talk” of speaking to groups as a marketing tool to promote and sell authors’ books. Her presentations there have been a favorite for the past two years, as she facilitates participants to take their own confidence, clarity and connection as an author into the speaking arena.