If the title of this post makes your palms sweat, you’re not alone. Public speaking is often cited as people’s top fear, even over death. But if you calm your racing heart long enough to open your mind, you’ll see a world of opportunity awaiting writers who are willing to step out from behind their computer screens and speak about their work.
Have you ever seen an artist perform live only to discover a newfound respect for that person and a heightened sense of admiration for their work? When an author delivers a well-crafted speech to the right audience, it can have a similar effect on potential readers. Hearing you speak not only helps readers connect your face and personality to the name on your book cover but also gives them the opportunity to behold your passion for your novel’s subject matter, which can translate to book sales, valuable word-of-mouth marketing, and a following of super fans clamoring for your next book.
So, where does one find such speaking opportunities? And how do you compete against the pros who have been doing this for years? Opportunities abound when you seek out targeted speaking engagements with specific audiences that are most likely to connect with you, your message, and your novel. Today, I share how to find those unique speaking opportunities and what to do once you have.
Step 1: Determine who you want to reach.
To reach the right people with the right message, you need to know exactly who you’re targeting. Obviously, you want to speak to audiences full of potential readers and book buyers. Depending on your book, the reader and buyer may be the same person, or they may be different people. For example, my new children’s book, High Flyers: Rookie of the Year , is for readers ages 7-10, but buyers are likely to be parents, relatives, teachers, and librarians. Just as you might create profiles for your characters, similar summaries can help you clarify who your audience is and understand their behavior patterns, which is invaluable when determining where to find them and what to say once you do.
When creating an audience profile, consider not only demographics (“who” you’re trying to reach) but also psychographics (“why” they buy) and geographics (“where” to find them). Be as specific as possible; the narrower the definition, the easier it is to find the right speaking opportunities. The list below will get you started, but feel free to add characteristics that are relevant to your particular audience(s).
- Education level
If your novel has more than one target audience, create a separate profile for each segment, because they’ll likely have unique traits that influence their behaviors.
Step 2: Identify your “sweet spot.”
With the aid of online resources and the proliferation of online groups and communities, finding speaking opportunities has never been easier. Once you’ve determined who you want to talk to, you can use clues from the profiles you’ve developed to find the intersection between your target audience’s interests and your novel’s subject matter. I think of this as the “sweet spot” because the speaking opportunities tend to be more plentiful and the competition less intense than with more-generalized prospects.
For example, elementary schools are an obvious opportunity for a children’s book author. But, since this audience is so general and diverse, there’s likely to be a lot more competition, which means fewer opportunities, especially for newer authors and speakers. Since High Flyers: Rookie of the Year is about the sport of pigeon racing, there are sweet spots of opportunity within the pigeon racing community, 4-H clubs, scouting organizations, and other groups that foster children’s interest in animals and nature.
As you search for sweet spots of opportunity to speak about your book, consider the following:
- Does your story contain a famous person, historic event, or sport?
- Is it set during a certain time period, season, or holiday?
- Is a milestone anniversary or celebration related to your book’s subject coming up?
- Is there a ‘National Day’ for the subject of your book? (Fun fact: June 13 is National Pigeon Day.)
- Does it take place in a certain neighborhood, town, community, or region?
- What subjects and themes does your story explore?
These details may seem trivial, but any one of them can translate into speaking engagements with special interest groups, enthusiast clubs, associations, or organizations.
Step 3: Find them.
Once you’ve identified those sweet spots of opportunity, a number of online resources can help you find and connect with the right decision makers.
- Google  search – This one needs no explanation.
- Facebook  groups – Discover Facebook groups using the application’s left navigation menu; under Explore, click Groups, and then search for the types of groups you’re looking for.
- LinkedIn  groups – Find LinkedIn groups using the application’s search bar or see what groups LinkedIn suggests for you by clicking on Work in the upper right corner, selecting Groups, and then clicking Discover.
- Meetup.com  – This online social networking service helps people organize online and join group meetings face-to-face.
- Directory of Associations  – This free database contains information about over 36,000 associations worldwide.
- Agent  – Agent gives you access to 1,000+ conferences and the contact info of the decision makers.
- Skype an Author Network  – A network of authors willing to Skype into classrooms to speak with teachers and children.
Step 4: Reach out.
While a straightforward email introduction can go a long way in helping you secure a speaking gig, a one-sheet is the ultimate calling card of a pro. As its name indicates, it’s one sheet of information that tells decision makers everything they need to know to book you for a speaking engagement. It conveys the following information:
- Your name
- Target audience
- Speech topics
- Benefits of booking you
- Your bio
- Other organizations you’ve worked with
- Contact information
If you’re new to speaking, you may not have a list of organizations you’ve worked with or testimonials right out of the gate, and that’s OK. Your one-sheet is a work in progress that should evolve and expand as you gain experience. With that in mind, be sure to ask for a written testimonial after every speaking engagement so you can include the best on your one-sheet and the rest on your website.
When creating your one-sheet, make sure the design, colors, and copy reflect the tone of the book and your voice. This gives decision makers a clearer understanding of what you have to offer. (For an example of a one-sheet, check out mine .)
Step 5: Pick a topic.
Speech topics are all around us, you just have to know where to find them. Here are a few places to look:
- The sweet spot. How can you relate an aspect of your novel to your audience’s interests?
- Your research. What surprising discoveries did you make while writing your book?
- Old drafts. Are there any “killed darlings” that can be given new life in a speech?
- News headlines. Are there any connections between your novel’s subject matter and current events?
As you brainstorm possibilities, challenge yourself to find new ways to talk about tired topics. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your ideas by exploring a different angle or turning a common belief on its ear. The unexpected often makes for the most memorable speeches.
Step 6: Craft a compelling talk.
Before you begin writing, determine what type of speech you intend to give. Speeches generally fall into one of four categories: informational, persuasive, entertainment, or inspirational. This doesn’t mean a speech can’t be both informational and entertaining, but it’s important to develop your content with one clear purpose in mind so it flows in a logical, organized manner, making it effortless for the listener to understand what you’re trying to say. Also consider what your audience members want. Why are they attending your talk in the first place? What are they hoping to gain from it? And what do you want them to do after hearing your speech? Considering these factors at the outset can help guide your writing and result in a compelling talk that motivates action.
As you develop your speech, take time to learn from the pros. Seek out local authors and attend their presentations to discover firsthand what works well and what doesn’t. Check out the powerhouse performances on TED  and pay careful attention to how the speakers go deep into a topic while keeping their message simple, illustrating their points with stories, and leaving the audience with a powerful takeaway.
To brush up your own skills, consider joining your local chapter of Toastmasters International . You’ll not only practice writing and delivering speeches but also have a chance to work through stage fright and get constructive feedback in a safe environment.
Step 7: Set your speaking fees.
While there’s no clear-cut answer to how much to charge for a talk, take the following variables into consideration:
- Your expertise with the topic
- Speaking experience
- Awards and accolades
- Type of speech and its duration (e.g., keynote speech, panel discussion, all-day workshop, multi-day seminar)
- The type of organization and its budget
If you’re just starting out, it’s probable that your speaking fees will be on the lower end and rise as you gain experience. When determining how much to charge, talk to other speakers in your category to learn how they structure their speaking fees and get a feel for how much money organizations expect to spend on speakers. Charging too much can prevent you from being hired, but charging too little can cause an organization to perceive you as offering little value, so it’s important to do your research and understand what the market will bear. If you encounter an organization that doesn’t have a budget for speakers, consider alternative arrangements, such as book sales, promotional exposure, or some other barter that compensates you for the value you bring to the table.
Public speaking doesn’t have to be a prospect worse than death. As a fiction writer in an increasingly crowded market, it can be your secret weapon. When you know how to reach the right audience with the right message, public speaking becomes a competitive advantage that can help you increase your visibility, share your knowledge, grow your fan base, and sell more books in the process.
Are you interested in finding speaking opportunities to promote your novel? If so, what questions do you have? Or, if you’re already speaking publicly, what helpful tips can you share?