Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Speaking of Speaking


by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine


In every successful writer's life, the time will come when you speak in front of an audience.  Perhaps a writers group will invite you to be a guest, or you yourself will seek out a suitable venue to promote your book. In either case, few authors are trained in both writing and public speaking, so first timers sometimes learn the ropes the hard way.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a talk by a physician who had recently been published. The newspaper blurb indicated that he would be speaking from his book, and since the subject matter was of interest, I did indeed check it out.  During that hour I was reminded of certain presentation do's and don'ts that I needed to remember, which I hope will benefit you too.

"AND NOW A MAN WHO NEEDS NO INTRODUCTION"
More than one comedian has introduced someone with those very words and then walked away.  Most of us, however, want and need to be introduced to the audience.  Do yourself a favor and come up with the wording you prefer.  Provide the person introducing you with a short paragraph about you.  This info may already be in the program if there is one.  Only if you're good friends with the presenter would you want them to adlib an intro for you.

TESTING, 1, 2, 3...
Whenever possible, check the sound system personally beforehand.  At the weekend talk I attended, the author no sooner started speaking when deafening feedback filled the room.  A sound guy rushed to his aid and quickly adjusted the volume, but at least four more times during the talk additional screeches marred the presentation.  To the author's credit, he waited patiently each time and never called attention to it, much less made any disparaging remarks.

YOU OUGHTA BE IN PICTURES
Not every talk needs a slide show or PowerPoint presentation, but if you're going to have one, make sure your laptop is plugged in.  A few minutes into his program, the author's photos were obscured by a popup message about the battery getting ready to die.  The next few minutes were devoted to someone retrieving a power cord and eventually restoring the visual aids.  Fortunately, the audience took it in stride and even saw the humor in it, aided by the author's own willingness to joke about his error.

ME, MYSELF AND I
Technical problems aside, something the author could have done better involved the subject matter of the presentation itself.  The audience came expecting to hear wisdom based on his new nonfiction book.  Instead, we learned where he grew up, where he went to school, and how he got into medicine, accompanied by photos of all the people who encouraged him to become a doctor.  It's one thing to share one's expertise, but the aforementioned introduction could have covered that.  The book itself was mentioned only a couple of times, and when it was, just one helpful bit of info was shared. Yes, we got to know the author, but we didn't get to assess whether his book would be worth having.  Bottom line: deliver what the audience expects.

LEARN FROM THE MASTERS
Watch some videos of talks given by leading authors and observe how their presentations reflect their brand. Your favorite authors are readily found on YouTube.  I'll recommend this one by Amalie Jahn, which I return to periodically.  Her TED presentation is a prime example of poise, humor and information.  http://www.amaliejahn.com/blog/chapter-23-ted-talk-me-on-the-big-red-dot

Presentations don't have to be flashy or slick, and you don't have to be the great orator.  Just being yourself and giving the audience something they can take away, whether it's useful instruction or a heartfelt story, is what will make your talk one they'll appreciate.

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