I’ve been speaking professionally for over twenty years and know first-hand the impact it can have on book sales. No matter how digitized a culture we become, there is no substitute for actual human contact—the sacred connection between an author and their audience. As an author, how can you harness that power of speaking engagements? Here are some tips to use speaking engagements to help you build your author platform and sell more books.
I’ve accumulated a treasure trove of author speaking tips over the years, some of which may seem like common sense—but when you’re rushing out the door to a speaking engagement, you may not think about these things until it’s too late. We'll go from the preliminary to the tactical, discussing why speaking engagements are important for self-published authors and where to start, then diving into speaking tips for authors, tech tips to remember, and using speaking engagements to market your book.
How Speaking Engagements Can Benefit Authors
Here are a few benefits of adding professional speaking to your author platform:
If you’re an author, doing speaking engagements is a game changer. Conversely, if you’re already on the speaking circuit or recognized for a topic area, adding the distinction of author to your name is the next natural step in branding yourself. It works both ways. That’s what makes speaking such a win-win.
One of the biggest myths about speaking is that it’s not an option for someone who’s quiet or shy. On the contrary, you don’t need a big, outgoing personality to be a powerful speaker. You just have to be open and be yourself. There is nothing more captivating than an author who communicates from the heart.
You don’t need a speaker’s bureau to begin speaking. There are organizations in your own community that are always looking for speakers; you can research them online. Start with rotary clubs, PTA groups, places of worship, chambers of commerce, park districts, schools, and community centers. You can build gradually, beginning with small talks at local events, and hone your skills over time.
Speaking Tips for Authors
The hardest part for most authors is putting yourself out there and interacting with the public—here are a few tips to make it a bit easier.
- Dress Comfortably. Whatever your preference, opt for fabrics that breathe, shoes that allow you to be on your feet pain free, and layered clothing to adjust for temperature variances in the room.
- Nourish Yourself. Don’t eat heavy before an author talk. Eat light, but smart—like raw nuts or a protein bar that you can nibble on during a break.
- Plan Your Introduction. Talk with the person who’ll be introducing you about how you’d like to be introduced. Don’t be shy about asking if they’d prefer a prepared introduction in writing, or if they’d rather have you share a few things from your author bio that they can incorporate into their own intro.
- Don’t Over-Prepare. Know your overall message and only refer to your notes if you need to. As long as you’re in the moment connecting with people on a human level, you can go back to something you may have missed or correct a mistake. The key is to be fully present and engaged.
- Take Your Time. Don’t rush through your talk. If you’re running over, better to leave a few things out and conclude gracefully. When that happens to me, I’m always honest with my audience. I say, “my time is almost up; there’s so much more I wanted to share, but let me leave you with this…” and then I give them the key take away from the talk, the one thing that above all else I want them to remember.
- Avoid "Ums" and "You Knows.” Instead, replace them with a pause. There is NOTHING more powerful than a pause.
- Take Questions, But Don’t Give Anyone the Microphone. Listen, repeat, or rephrase. This way you can frame the question in the way that you want to answer it. Sometimes, audience members will use Q&A time inappropriately—whether to vent, communicate a grudge, or simply seek attention. Maintaining control of the mic protects everyone.
- Sell Books. Speaking helps sell books. There’s “Back of the Room” sales in which you bring copies of your book to the speaking engagement, ask that a table be set up, and then sell and autograph them on-site at the conclusion of your talk. Speaking engagements also generate post-event sales with online retailers and local bookstores when audience members seek your book out after the event.
Tech Tips for Speaking Engagements
When you're booked for an author speaking engagement, you'll likely be asked how you’d like the room arranged, what kind of microphone you prefer, and if you have any specific tech requests. Outlined here are some tips for those new to author speaking engagements.
- Room Set-Up: there are two basic types of room set-ups, proscenium (theater or lecture hall style), and tables (luncheon style). If you’re speaking in an auditorium or even a small bookstore or library and they’ve set up the chairs theater style, ask for aisle space, so that you can walk all the way to the last row, and make meaningful contact with each audience member. If you’re giving a talk at a luncheon or dinner and the sponsor has arranged tables, ask that they be placed far enough apart that you can move comfortably around the room.
- Microphone Tips: there are several choices, and it really depends on personal preference. I always request a cordless handheld microphone. It allows me the freedom to use the entire space as performance area and make contact with the audience. Corded microphones are too restrictive. Even long cords are cumbersome, easy to trip over, and can be distracting. Speak with passion and purpose, and let the natural conviction in your voice be your greatest amplification. Don’t let the microphone be a crutch.
- Podium or No Podium: some authors like them, and it works for them, but I’ve never been a fan of podiums. It creates a barrier between the audience and the speaker. If you need notes, put them on index cards that you can easily hold in your hand. Another tip, if I’m giving a talk in a theater or lecture hall type setting and there’s a stage, I always opt to speak from the floor, as close to the audience as I can get. The more “with” your audience you are, the more memorable and moving it will be for you both.
- PowerPoints: PowerPoints can be a valuable tool and some authors are wonderful at knowing how to integrate them into their talks. I have one tip: keep them simple and clean—if you put too much information in a PowerPoint, the audience isn’t looking at you, they’re looking at the screen.
Marketing Your Book with Speaking Engagements
What steps can you take both on-site at your presentation and afterward in terms of follow-up? Here are some tips for marketing your book through your speaking engagements.
Supplies: the only way to make meaningful connections with your audience after your talk is to provide them with followup information that tells them how to connect with you later. With that in mind, here are a few items to throw in your bag before you head to your talk:
- a stack of business cards with your phone number, author website info, and email address. If you cultivate important contacts at an author event, especially members of the media, your contact information is vital.
- a printed hand-out with four or five highlights from your talk, the title of your book, and your contact info and author website
- a notebook and pen to record new leads
Book Signing and Networking: it’s natural for people to want to chat with the author when they’re getting their book signed. Enjoy this interaction and “be in the moment.” Some authors make the mistake of rushing through an autographing because so many people are coming up to them at once, they become overwhelmed. Remember, this is a GOOD problem. Here’s my rule of thumb—if someone in the signing line has a quick question or comment, take the time to listen and respond. If what they’re asking is more complicated, explain that you want to give them your full attention, and would they mind waiting until you’ve finished the signing, and that you’ll be happy to talk further with them then.
Thank You Notes: after a talk, send individual thank you notes to the folks involved in making it all come together—the buyer or primary contact, the administrative assistants, the receptionist at the front desk. You might even want to include a personalized copy of your book with some of these notes. Kindness and gratitude count. Thanking people has a way of magically stimulating word of mouth for your book. And when the next potential buyer wants references, those whom you’ve taken the time to thank will be much more eager to provide glowing recommendations.
Catalytic Outreach: email or call your primary contact after the talk, and ask if there are any other organizations with whom they have a relationship that might be interested in your message. Most buyers, if they were happy with your presentation, are always willing to refer other possible speaking opportunities.
These tips and tricks can help you land speaking engagements and build your author platform. It may take patience and persistence, but opportunities await. Now, get out there and show ‘em what you’ve got! This is your moment. Seize it with your whole heart!
This post was updated on 2/26/2019. It was originally posted on 10/04/2018.