Many of you will know that I put out a book a few months ago. I was involved with two book launches, a radio interview and two library talks before the end of last year. I was extremely busy organising the advertising and the events, getting the book into bookshops around the country, as well as posting copies to those who had ordered from me. Yes, being the writer, publisher and distributer proved to be a job and a half. And, because of Covid delaying events in many libraries last year I still have more author talks lined up to do. I am really looking forward to these talks, as they are the fun part in the process. It really is a joy to speak about, read from the novel and share the experience of writing it with others.
I have received good feedback from audiences about how clear my voice is, and how well my readings come across. That is because I love public speaking, but that was certainly far from the truth when I was younger. I used to be over-anxious if I had to speak in front of others, and this anxiety continued into adulthood. I was in my forties before I decided to do something to help me overcome this problem, so, I signed up for a Speaking Theory and Practice course at university. They’ve probably got more exciting titles nowadays for such classes, but essentially we learned how to deliver readings, and speeches aloud. The year culminated in delivering a speech we had written ourselves. Help!
The course was a year long, with weekly workshops taking two hours or more. Looking back, I am still amazed at how I benefitted from the course. From a stuttering ‘down-cast-eyes’ speaker at the start, to becoming a fairly confident writer, and deliverer of my own speeches. This is not I add, because I possessed special powers, but because the tutor gave very good advice about the components of putting a good speech together, and excellent pointers of how to put this into practice.
This week I happened to find a small article on tips for public speaking for illustrators and authors I had written years ago ( I was tutoring a class on Introduction to Children’s Book Illustrating at the time), and was surprised to discover how well I had retained that earlier learning from those speaking theory and practice classes, and more importantly, have continued to put into practice. See the piece I found below.
Planning a successful author/illustrator talk If it’s your first time to speak publicly, keep things fairly simple. Write a list of points you would like to cover. Have them listed systematically. Writing what you would like to say in full first is useful, then condense the words down to headings only, which should be written on cards, or a small pad which can fit in your hand. Become familiar with the content, read it out loud.
At this stage, don’t employ too many electronic extras, e.g., powerpoint displays and the like, even if you are extremely computer savvy. Why? It just lessens the degree of complication. You can always include more each time. A poster or two (or one static powerpoint slide) would suffice. Remember it is what you have to say about your work, and how you say it which is the important part.
Meeting the audience This is a vital point, no matter whether you are speaking to adults or children. After the initial introduction (by the librarian, teacher, etc.) it is up to you. It is important to look out to the group, casting your eyes on all of them. Smile. Tell them how pleased you are to meet them. Sounds obvious, but it is sometimes overlooked. Remember to keep your head up when speaking as the pitch of your voice will be affected. Think about the times speakers have mumbled. It is a sure thing to put people off.
Relating to the audience Think of different ways you might relate to the audience. Questioning is a good way to achieve this. Use humour when you can. For instance, the children will most likely know you are an illustrator/author, but you might ask…”Does anyone know an illustrator?” Hands will shoot up, and naturally you have to chose one child from the group. But remember not to keep choosing the same one. Look to the back, and sides. Keep scanning the group. Relate what you are doing with your work to what the children may know. … “I bet most of you write stories, and do lots of artwork.” etc.
I hope that those who feel anxious speaking in public can shake those jitters and find it fun. Try some of ‘my’ tips, they do help, I promise.