Authors are often asked to talk about their books. Sometimes that means doing an interview one-on-one for an article or podcast. But it might mean presenting an ‘author talk’ to a live audience.
Recently I spoke about my book, The Edward Street Baby Farm, at a local library. It was in a suburb where I once went to high school. As I sat waiting for the train on my way home, I wondered what my teenage self would have thought, if someone had told her that one day she would be giving a forty-five minute talk to an audience of strangers. She would surely have laughed in disbelief. ‘Spoken English’ was my least favourite subject at school. I was a shy teenager with more than the average anxiety about public speaking.
I’m still very much a novice at speaking to an audience, but I feel much less nervous now. Here are some of the things I’ve learned from experience over the past year or so that might be helpful to anyone else who is invited to give an author talk:
1. Make sure you know where the venue is actually located. I looked on a map for the library and thought I had the address. But when I got to the street, I couldn’t find it. It turned out to be in the middle of a shopping centre. A great place for a library to be, but it wasn’t where I’d expected.
2. Arrive in good time. Allow time to familiarise yourself with the set up and the technology provided. Meet the organisers and the person who will be introducing you, if you don’t already know them. Make sure you can remember their names. (I write them at the top of my outline notes.)
3. Let the organisers know what you need and ask in advance about how the room will be set up. If you prefer to speak with a microphone, ask for one. If you want a lectern or desk to hold your notes, let them know. Ask what the equipment will be for showing slides if you plan to use them.
4. Assume the technology is going to fail. If you’re going to use Power Point, have more than one copy of your presentation available, either on separate USBs or online. Be prepared to give your talk without slides if necessary. (This hasn’t happened to me yet, but I’m sure it will one day.)
5. When you arrive, mingle with the audience beforehand and get to know some of them. Then you’ll have some familiar faces to look at when you speak.
6. Take a deep breath before you start and speak slightly slower than you would normally. Write “take a deep breath and speak slowly” at the top of your notes.
7. Prepare well, practise a lot, and then have fun. Your talk might be a bit rough around the edges the first of the second time, or even the seventh or eighth, but you’ll learn something every time. If you want more hints, YouTube is a good place to look.