You’ve been asked to do a talk on your novels. As a successful author, people expect a thrilling presentation that will end with a standing ovation. But what happens instead? You find yourself a gibbering wreck, you can’t remember your words and people are fidgeting. They look bored. How can you devise a book talk that will keep your audience talking afterward – and not for the wrong reasons?
What can Go Wrong with a Book Speech?
There are three secrets to a successful book presentation. Firstly, have a backup plan. Secondly, be prepared. And thirdly, pretend. Pretend you are not nervous and pretend you are confident. This might require an Oscar winning performance. We will explore these in more detail in a moment, for now here is a list of beginner’s mistakes when it comes to speaking on your books.
Not writing out or preparing your speech.
Not practicing your speech or reading it aloud.
Not timing yourself.
Not anticipating questions or preparing your answers.
Not recording yourself of rehearsing in front of friends or family. This will highlight distracting physical behavior.
Not knowing your subject.
Not knowing where the book talk is to be held.
Letting your nerves get the better of you.
Public Speaking Body Behavior
I have witnessed things that can go wrong with a book speech. One of these is distracting bodily behaviour. This includes, not giving eye contact to the audience or always addressing one area of the crowd. This can make the rest of the crowd feel excluded.
Another is clasping the hands over the crotch or hands on hips. Both look naff. Playing with hair, spectacles and finger-picking are also distracting. Tape yourself. Such unconscious body language will be exposed. You can then do something about them.
Not Speaking Clearly on you Presentation
For heaven's sake, speak up! Don’t mumble at the end of sentences. Watch out for a broad regional accent some might not understand. Try to temper your accent for the night, so that your audience can understand you.
Reading to yourself is vastly different to reading aloud. Exercise your voice. Get used to how it sounds and become aware of when to take pauses. A book speech needs pauses; it helps the audience take in what you have just said. Watch out for speeding up towards the end. Maintain the pace of your book talk to a deliberate level. Read out loud and time yourself. Allow extra time on the night for when your audience asks questions and for applauses (you never know).
Overcome Nerves Before a Speech
Nerves are a terrible saboteur of you book talk. Some speakers have said that death is less frightening than having dozens of eyes boring into you. Think of it this way, if the worst happens, you’ll still have your liver, there won’t be an earthquake and your kids won’t be kidnapped. You’ve just had a bum night, that’s all.
Here are some tips to help calm the nerves before presenting on your book.
Practice your speech until you know it in your sleep. Preparing properly will help make you feel more in control on the night. For me, the idea of blagging your way through a talk is terrifying. Knowing exactly what I want to say makes the prospect of public speaking on my books less daunting. I feel more in control.
Anticipate questions from the audience. Work on the most obvious ones first. Which authors do you admire? What first got you into writing? How do you fit family life into writing novels? Prepare the answers to each question, and then think of some awkward question. Why did you decide to give the hero two heads? Do you get satisfaction from writing bondage scenes? Think of the most awkward questions and prepare your answers before the night.
Know exactly what you want to say in the opener. The moments before a speech are the most stressful. Get the introduction out of the way and you will get into the flow.
If you tend to sweat when nervous, spray extra antiperspirant or wear a T-shirt beneath your clothes to soak it up. If your hands tend to shake, avoid using resources that will tremble with you. Rather than use paper, use card.
Practice breathing exercises before your talk. Exercise-off nervous energy. Taking deep breaths will help rid of the acid-forming carbon dioxide from your body and your mind will end up more energized and focused (well, theoretically, anyway.)
You are likely to still be nervous, but don’t let it show. Don’t apologize to the audience about being nervous. Adopt the body language of one who is not. Easier said than done I know, but it’s worth trying. Don’t let your nerves show or your audience will feel uneasy watching your speech.
Allow plenty of time for your journey. Have a plan B if there is a power cut. Make provisions for everything that could go wrong on the night. Have extra resources in case you lose something or it lets you down.
Making Mistakes in a Talk on Books
Accept that you will make mistakes. Even the best speeches have mistakes in them. If you forget to mention something, let it go. Just carry on. The audience is unlikely to notice unless it is a key point.
The best thing to do for your book speech is to practice, practice and practice. Make sure it fills the time allotted. Prepare some annex material that can be added or excluded within the speech, depending upon whether you finish before the hour is up or find yourself overrunning. Preparing for anything that could go wrong will reduce the chances of a bum book talk. The first book talk is always the worst. Learn from experience and your book talk can only improve.
More Tips on Book Talking
The following links are on my other site on novel writing.
The crucial aspects of your book talk
How to do a book talk, an author's guide
Organizing your book speech
Guide to doing a book talk
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