By E. E. Kennedy
|I'm about to speak at Lady Bedford's Tea Shoppe in Pinehurst, NC|
Psychologists tell us that the general public’s top two greatest fears are #1 Death and #2 Public Speaking and in case you didn’t know this, I am here to tell you that many—maybe even most—authors are introverts, happiest when alone with their keyboard, thinking up stories. For many introverts, even thinking about public speaking sends them straight to the Tums bottle, but if one can gather the courage to attempt it, an author--and actually, anybody--can reap many benefits.
|A small but appreciative audience at Lady Bedford's|
I’ve spoken at mystery conferences, at library gatherings, at ladies’ teas, at book clubs, in bookstores, at retirement communities, on local television and even once to a fifth-grade class. Here are a few tips I’ve learned from this occasionally harrowing experience:
Unless it’s an academic audience, they don’t much care about your educational bona fides. Don’t tell them about all your awards, either. I remember a talk at a library I attended that was supposed to last ten minutes, but seemed to go on for hours. (“And after that, I won the silver inkwell for…”) Let them read about them on your website or in your brochure/business card which you will be handing out at the end.
Don’t just tell them the story of your book. That’s what’s reading’s for. One of the most boring presentations by a writer I’ve ever attended consisted of her outlining the plot of her latest release. It’s not as though her book was a dull one, it wasn’t, but the things she said were tedious in the same way a long synopsis can be tedious: the bare bones of a story is just that, bare and dry. When it comes to telling story details, just give them tasty hints, little intriguing tidbits.
What people do like to hear about is what it’s like to write a book. Is it hard? What problems did you have? Share your anecdotes with them, things they wouldn’t know just by reading your book. I like to tell how I was so tired one night and one of my characters (Vern Thomas) had become so real in my mind, that I literally (pun intended) considered asking his advice about the rules of basketball. The next morning, I realized my drowsy mistake!
Gear your talk to your audience. With young people, stress the adventure in your book, if any. With older ones, talk about the intriguing puzzle, but don’t give too much away!
Be funny, if possible. Tell your audience the mistakes you’ve made. For instance, in one scene in Irregardless of Murder, a police detective used a pencil to take notes and in the next sentence, was using a ballpoint. Not even my editor noticed the discrepancy!
It helps to have the audience in a good mood. One of my earliest talks was before a women’s book club in a rather exclusive country club. I didn’t realize until I arrived that I was the entertainment for their Christmas party! After the introduction, I arose to waves of enthusiastic applause. I told my Vern Thomas basketball story and they chuckled. I mentioned how I had unnerved ferryboat passengers by taking notes from the “man overboard” placard, and the ladies laughed heartily. By the time I got to the ending part about the titles I planned to use in future books (To Brutally Split an Infinitive, Incomplete Sentence, etc.), members of the women’s book club were slapping the table in glee. Let me tell you, it was a gratifying reaction and I was quite full of myself until somebody casually mentioned that there had been an extended cocktail hour just before my appearance! My audience had been well and truly pickled in advance!
And then there was the retirement home, where half the people fell asleep five minutes into my talk and I was interrupted halfway through by an attendant distributing popcorn and tuning into Family Feud on the giant TV screen behind me.
One of the comforts of being a writer is that you can put experiences like this into your next book!
What do you want to hear in an author’s speech? Your suggestions are greatly appreciated. So much so, that if you leave your name and email address, they’ll go into the drawing for the Miss Prentice Mystery of your choice!