12 top tips for public speaking and school talk

Public speaking and school talks are a part of promoting yourself when your are involved in the Children’s publishing market. It was the subject of some discussion at a SCBWI meeting in Canberra last night. The talented Susanne Gervay was sharing some insight on the state of Australian publishing when the topic came up.

Rosville PS 11APRIL13

As a regular speaker at events for children, I think I might have some tips for those looking to launch a career in publishing.

Here are 12 things I hope you find useful,

  1. Get use to talking in public. I’m sure that my first talks were terrible. I wasn’t comfortable doing it. I just forced my to go and do it. So get out an practice. You don’t need an event, try alternative, i.e Rotrum (http://www.rostrum.com.au). Am always striving to improve my public speaking. Having presented so many times with my author friend, Nick Falk, I have learnt heaps from him. Mainly about being loud!
  1. Not everyone is funny or at least not every who thinks that they are is. You don’t have to be a comedian to be a great kids book talker. If you lack the confidence to start, may consider professional help. Not a psychiatrist, but a Stand up comedy course or and acting class. If nothing else, tips on how to use a microphone would be helpful. I would personally benefit from some microphone lessons
  1. Know your audience and what they want. Unless they ask in question time. Kids generally don’t want to know about your journey to become an Author or illustrator. They want to know about your books and character. Typically they will ask you where your ideas come from, how long does it take to write (or draw) a book, What’s your favourite book (either yours or someone else), how much money do you make, are you married, how old are you…etc.
  1. Bring your books to life. Don’t just hold up the book and flash the cover to the adoring crowd. Read a section, but read with passion. If you’re an illustrator and your comfortable drawing in public, draw for them. Nothing will have the audience in the palm of your hand like a quick drawing. Don’t draw if you think it will take a long time to complete. No body wants to see your back for 1/2 an hour while you create a masterpiece. With that, practice drawing and be aware that you will block out the view from some of the audience. I try to move around a bit so people can see what is happening. It is also different drawing on whiteboards or with paper clipped vertical. Personally I normally draw on a table or desk, not leaning against the wall and not at the scale that is required to entertain an audience
  1. Engage with the audience. If you do the same talk over and over you will start to sound like a robot. Allow time for the audience to guide you on what they want to know. Ask them questions and be fearless in your answers. I generally run with the concept they can ask anything. I normally try and give a honest answer. If I am uncomfortable answering, I make up an obvious lie. i.e. how much do you earn? Answer: 5 billion dollars a drawing. I try never to do this if I can help it.
  1. Set up and prepare. Make sure that your are not hungry, not needing to go to the loo, not distracted trying to find props (if you have them) and generally relaxed as much as possible. The 5 (or 6) ‘P’, always remember that prior preparation prevents (piss) poor performance.
  1. Talk for less time than you have. In a 45minute talk, I only plan 30 minutes of talking and 15minutes of Questions and Answer.
  1. Be flexible. You may have expected to talk for an hour, but for reasons beyond anyone control; you now have ½ an hour. Or you have ½ an hour extra. If you know your stuff, you can chop and change as needed.
  1. Don’t rely technological support. Power point is boring, if using it keep it short and make it highly relevant (an excellent example I saw of this was one of Sarah Davis’s illustration talks on character design). Have a plan B, what will you do if there is a power failure, your computer is stolen or the bulb in the light pro bursts?
  1. Commit, when you read, Commit it and the audience will respond. If you are going to try for funny, commit to it or it will fall flat, if you are going to demonstrate something, Commit to the activity.
  1. It’s O.K. to make mistake, either in talking, reading, drawing juggling chainsaws (maybe not the chain saws). It shows your human that all. I spend a great amount of time explaining the benefits or getting in wrong in my talks, the working through ideas that are rubbish or sketches that a appalling. This is an important message for kids. As author and illustrators we don’t just sit down and get it right first go.
  1. Lastly, You are there to inform and engage with the audience, you are not an entertainer, a sideshow act or a circus clown. You can still have loads of fun and clown around. But you are there talking about stories and there for the benefit to the kids.

I hope that these are useful tips and that I will see you around talking about your books soon.

If your interested in me coming at talking at your school (to see a demonstration of the above mentioned tips). I am represented in Sydney by The Children’s Bookshop Speakers Agency, http://thechildrensbookshopspeakersagency.com.au

and in Brisbane and other parts of Australia by Speakers Ink


General enquires can be emailed directly to me at tony@flowersink.com.au