Please welcome author Donna Galanti to WU today! Donna, a frequent presenter, is here to share a bounty of tips that promise to make us more comfortable, efficient, and effective presenters. More about her:
Donna is the author of the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy and the children’s fantasy adventure Joshua and The Lightning Road series. She is represented by Bill Contardi of Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents, Inc. Donna is a contributing editor for International Thriller Writers The Big Thrill  magazine and blogs with other middle grade authors at Project Middle Grade Mayhem . She’s lived from England as a child, to Hawaii as a U.S. Navy photographer. Donna enjoys teaching at conferences on the writing craft and marketing and presenting as a guest author at elementary and middle schools. She also loves building writer community. Check out her 4 Proven Steps to Connect with Readers Right Now ( Before Your Book Even Comes Out!).
Prepare to Present with Confidence
As authors, we need to be in the public eye. Often this includes presenting at conferences, being a guest author at conventions, giving school assemblies, doing group author events, and more. Saying YES to these opportunities will force you to get over your public speaking fear. You may even come to enjoy it! Doing public events can also open many new opportunities for you as an author.
I was so nervous the first time I had to give a talk that I didn’t sleep well the night before, I felt nauseous all the way to the event, and my heart raced as I thought, “What if I make a fool of myself?” That was my biggest fear. I’ve come to realize that when all those people are staring at me as I speak that they are there because they want to be there – and are interested in what I have to share.
I’ve come a long way since that first talk to a small group of 35 people at a monthly writer’s group meeting. I’ve given dozens of presentations to groups of 50 to 350, from children to adults. Speaking events are now one of my favorite things to do as an author – and I never thought I would say that!
General tips to prepare:
To prepare for an in-person audience before you even create one, take notes at other presentations you attend. They can be any type of presentation, not just one for writers. Did the presenter have a handout, a PowerPoint, or exercise? Was it quality information in a manageable chunk?
Mimic what worked for you as an attendee to deliver your own passionate, quality presentations. Provide a survey to your audience, gather emails for your newsletter, and follow up with positive responses to request a testimonial.
People love handouts! You can distribute yours after the presentation so they must stay for the duration, but do let them know up front you will be giving one out at the end so they don’t have to take so many notes. I prefer to distribute a handout in the beginning as some people use it as a reference and take notes directly on it.
- Tips to combat anxiety:
- Prepare! (See notes below.)
- Speak slowly and with pauses, especially after questions. This also helps when your mind blanks on the next thing.
- Take deep breaths or a drink of water.
- If you flub up, laugh it off, engage the audience, and then get back on track. People like to know you are human, too.
- Use language to include the audience when asking questions or referring to a point in your slides. For example, ask questions such as “What canwe figure out from this?” or “How did we arrive at this idea?”
- Hold your script or notecards as a prop if you need to — holding something makes me feel more secure — but have practiced your talk enough so you only glance at it now and then.
- Be sure to make contact with the audience around the room. Having people stare at you is unnerving, but remember they are there because they choose to be and are interested in your topic! They are soaking up all your excellent information. You can connect with them through eye contact (or look at foreheads but never the floor or ceiling), gestures with your hands, and asking rhetorical questions (and then answering them).
- Think of your presentation as having a conversation, and be your true self.
- Project your voice, and practice volume, pace, and pitch to make the presentation lively. You will sound more commanding and confident – and feel it. Remember, you are in charge of the room and energy. Be energetic!
- Project confidence with your posture and presence. Standing behind a lectern can put a wall between you and the audience. As you speak, practice walking across the front, standing on the side, or going down the aisles to engage people. Don’t be afraid to wait until people settle down to continue, and move things along if running out of time. People will understand.
- Practice so you can be sure to end on time to allow for the next presenter. If you don’t get through all your content then refer people to the handout (they may not even know you didn’t get through the content). Ask them to contact with you via email with any questions, or if you’re at a conference ask that they connect with you later during the event. Make yourself accessible.
- Smile often!
- Tips to create your presentation:
- Know your audience and the event.
- Select an appropriate topic based on your audience and the event venue.
- Imagine that you are a member of your own audience. What might engage you, inspire you, or help you understand something better?
- Define your presentation objective. Will it be inspiring, informational, or entertaining – or all three?
- Write the main content of the presentation. This will be your script.
- Consider: How can you engage the audience more? Ask them to share throughout your talk, introduce a quiz, do a short exercise, or get them in groups to create something fun.
- Write the introduction and conclusion.
- Practice delivering the presentation so it seems second nature.
- Time your practice for the event, factoring in 5-10 minutes Q&A.
- Practice in the mirror and/or record a portion of it to play back. This could reveal content to change or reveal any mannerisms you wish to tone down, and can greatly improve your delivery. (I am a head bopper so had to find other ways to exude my energy!)
- From your final presentation script, create a handout with your bulleted main points and any mentioned resources. Be sure to include your website and contact information on each page and invite attendees to email you with questions and comments.
- Create notecards to reference during the presentation or a script. I like to hold a script and glance at it occasionally to keep on track. If using a PowerPoint slide show, the bulleted slides are enough to guide me through without a script or notecards.
- Tips for using visual aids:
Visual aids should provide an engaging supplement to your talk and can be a powerful tool to enhance your presentation’s impact.
- Use during key moments in your presentation for deeper impact and meaning.
- Use a big enough font in a slideshow so that an audience can read from anywhere in the room. I’ve found that 18-point font works well.
- Keep the background of a slideshow clean without busy images.
- Use a slideshow to discuss the visual point in-depth, not to be read word-by-word.
- Remember that simple is better. Don’t overdo animation in a video or slideshow as it can be distracting.
- Check the layout of the room to ensure the entire audience can see you and your visual aid.
- Practice ahead of time so you know all visual aids work as you deliver your presentation.
- Have multiple files of your presentation in case one fails. This could be on your laptop, a portable flash drive, or online storage in the cloud such as with Google Docs.
- Tips for setting the stage:
- Bring any necessary technology or equipment you may need.
- Have business cards. Remind the audience at the end to take one to connect with you and follow up with any questions.
- Provide a signup sheet for the audience to receive your newsletter or blog posts. Promote this in the beginning and end of your talk.
- Offer a survey for the audience to fill out before they leave. Distribute this in the beginning and remind them at the end to fill out and hand in to you.
- Bring props you may use.
- Bring a water bottle.
- Wear a comfortable outfit.
Go the Extra Mile:
Follow up with those who filled out your survey or signed up for your newsletter with an email thanking them personally for attending. For those who had positive things to say in your survey, ask them if you can use their words as a testimonial. For those who didn’t fill out a survey but signed up for your newsletter, thank them for attending and include the survey again in case they missed it.
Do you want to improve your public speaking or gain experience? You can start out small by asking your writer organization, and other local groups, if you can speak at their monthly meeting. This is how I started!
You don’t have to be a top expert to position yourself as one through public speaking. You have valuable information to share that is unique to your experience. Find meaning and value in it to share with others so they can benefit. Don’t compare yourself to “the top experts.” Think about how you can share your expertise – through personal stories, events, successes, and the techniques you learned. Keep in mind that you are an expert on your own unique path.
You also don’t need a book out to position yourself as an expert with public speaking. If your book is on its path to publication, you already have plenty of experience to share. This could be geared toward readers or writers about your writing process, themes connecting your writing to your life, editing, research, setting, characterization, or writing for a certain market. Also, if you do have a book being published, others in authority think you are already an expert related to your book. This could be your agent, publisher, editor, peer, or even early reviews.
I hope these techniques help you prepare to present with confidence at your next public speaking event – or your first one! What techniques have helped you speak to a group?