Seven things I’ve learned about giving an author talk

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.

Stella Budrikis holding her book

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.

The Indignation Meeting

Advertisement for an Indignation Meeting in 1857

These days, if people don’t like something the government proposes, they take to social media to voice their objections. But in the 19th century, they would hold an ‘indignation meeting.’

I first came across this strange phrase while reading newspapers from the early 1890s. The engineer building the port at Fremantle, C. Y. O’Connor, advised the government that he needed the land occupied by the railway workshops in Fremantle for the new wharves. He suggested that it would be more efficient to have the workshops in Midland, where there would also be room for much-needed expansion.

The residents and businessmen of Fremantle were not happy with this idea. They held an ‘indignation meeting’ in the crowded town hall on 19 September 1892. After much discussion, all agreed that they ‘would ask the Government to pause before committing an act which would paralyse the commercial interests of the port of the colony, and prove a lasting misfortune and injustice to its inhabitants.’ A group of representatives conveyed this resolution to the Premier, Sir John Forrest. As a result of ongoing protests, the workshops would not be fully relocated until 1901.

The phrase ‘indignation meeting’ seems to have originated in the United States in the 1840s. It had spread to Britain by the 1850’s. In August 1855, passengers travelling from Australia to Liverpool in England held ‘what the Americans would term an indignation meeting’ on their arrival. They wanted to protest against their treatment onboard ship. Reports describing local protests as ‘indignation meetings’ began to appear in the Australian press about that time.

The first advertisement I’ve found which calls specifically for an Indignation Meeting is the one pictured above, which appeared in the Ballarat Star in December 1857. After that, advertisements for indignation meetings increased in frequency, and remained common until the 1930s. Even in the 1950s a few still appeared.

Monster meetings

Another phrase that began appearing in the 1850s was ‘monster meeting’. Organisers seem to have used Monster Meetings mainly to disseminate information to as many people as possible. While some involved the airing of grievances, others were part of political campaigns or social movements. For instance, on 8 April 1856, the Melbourne Age carried this advertisement for a ‘Monster Meeting’.

Advertisement for monster meeting from the Melbourne Age, 8 April 1856

The two terms could be combined. In March 1895, the Daily News described yet another protest against the removal of the Fremantle railway workshops as ‘a monster indignation meeting’. But again, the phrase had almost died out by the 1950s. Which is rather a pity, don’t you think?