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On a list of things that people fear, public speaking ranks at the top. Some people are more afraid of speaking in public than they are of dying!
Authors are not exempt. While some authors love communicating from the stage, many authors dread it. And even if you’re not paralyzed with anxiety about public speaking, you may not be sure how to find opportunities and book speaking engagements.
But speaking gigs are one of the best places to sell your books.
This article will discuss three simple steps you can take to start getting speaking gigs and use them to sell more books.
Why Public Speaking?
1. Speaking Sells Books: Speakers sell books at the back of the room after they speak.
2. Higher Profit Margins: You sell your books at full price, and you retain 100% of the profit.
3. Changes Hearts and Minds: Speaking allows people to connect with you in person. Your vulnerability, mannerisms, and even your pacing endear you to your audience.
4. Creates a Loyal Following: When an audience feels a powerful connection with you, they become your fans.
5. Attracts Publishers & Agents: If your proposal includes a list of 20 speaking engagements from the previous year and 20 scheduled for the coming year, agents and publishers will pay attention. A robust speaking schedule says a lot about your potential as a traditionally published author.
6. Builds and Establishes Your Authority: When you speak on your topic or the themes in your novel, your audience gets a first-hand account of your expertise.
7. Hones and Refines Your Messages: As you speak live, you’ll get reactions and feedback from your audience that will help you clarify your message and increase the value of your content.
8. Easier Than it Looks (90% of people are too scared to try it): Most everyone is nervous when they speak, but most people don’t look nervous. Nerves are internal, and most people don’t notice them at a distance.
9. A Digital World Causes People to Value In-Person Connection: When people speak in person at an event, a bond is formed that results in human connection and book sales. Additionally, people expect to be able to see and hear the authors they love in real life.
3 Steps to Get Your First Gig
If conquering your fear of public speaking is too terrifying, or if finding nonfiction topics to go with your novel is too exhausting or forced, please know, you can be a successful author without public speaking. Not every technique works for every author. But if you can overcome your fear, public speaking is powerful and useful.
Step #1 Create A Speaker Packet PDF
Create a starter kit PDF to introduce yourself to event coordinators who are looking for speakers. Rotary club presidents have to schedule a speaker every week, and they only need a good summary about you and your topic before they’ll invite you to speak.
Your Speaker Starter Kit should include the following:
- Your Headshot
- A One-Paragraph Bio
- Title(s) of Your Talk(s)
- Blurbs for Each of Your Talks/Topics
- Your Contact Information
It’s best to include titles and blurbs for at least three talks so that an event coordinator can choose the best fit for the audience. The very act of assembling this information will make you more confident about speaking in public.
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Step #2 Start Contacting Groups
If you want to speak to a particular group, how do you make that first contact?
Talk to Friends
The best way to be invited to speak to a group is to talk to your friends. You’re more likely to get a speaking gig if you have a friend or personal contact who recommends you. Speaking gigs often come down to who you know. Ask your friends if they know of events or groups where you could speak and follow up on those grassroots leads.
Create your Own Events
My very first speaking engagements were at a meetup group I started for authors. At each meeting, I’d give a presentation for several authors in someone’s living room.
Be Ready to Speak at a Moment’s Notice
My first big speaking opportunity came when I was ready to speak at a moment’s notice. The Mount Hermon Writer’s Conference hosts night owl sessions where attendees can present. I presented, and the session was so well attended that they invited me back as faculty the following year, even though they didn’t know about me before that session.
I was at a South by Southwest conference, and since people drink a lot of alcohol at the conference, speakers sometimes fail to show up for their sessions. Their protocol is to ask the audience if anyone wants to be the substitute discussion leader. I raised my hand and led the discussion.
Conferences often have empty slots when speakers get sick or have canceled flights. If you’re ready with a presentation, that empty slot can be yours. But you must have the courage to do it. Don’t let fear stifle your career. If you know your material and are willing to take the risk, you can reap great rewards.
Research Groups to Contact
Start by asking local groups. It’s always easier, and usually cheaper, to speak in your own community than to fly across the country. A simple Google search is a great place to find groups and contact information.
I never book a speaker if I haven’t heard a recording of them speaking. The first few times you speak, be sure to bring a voice recorder (or your smartphone) so you have a sample to share with event planners in the future.
Then, listen to your recording. You know what a good speech sounds like. Listening to your own talk will help you determine where it needs to be improved. The more times I give a talk, the funnier and more focused it gets.
Step #3 Embrace Speaking for Free
If you have already published a book, speaking for free may lead to book sales at the back of the room. Speaking for free improves your delivery and develops your confidence. I spoke for free long before I spoke at conferences for money.
Early on, my goal was to speak six times each month, even if it meant giving the announcements at church or talking about author websites in someone’s living room.
Sometimes my talks were mere “base hits” where people clapped and told me they liked it. As I kept at it, the invites started coming in. One attendee invited me to speak for a week at an event in Hawaii, all expenses paid. That led to an invitation to return to Hawaii with my wife, and later it led to an invitation to speak in Switzerland.
The best source for future speaking opportunities is your audience. They’ve heard you speak, and if they enjoyed it, they will often invite you to speak at their event or recommend you to someone else.
Speaking for free is a great way to test a new talk on a live audience before you take it on the road. One of my web hosting clients is an author who speaks to tens of thousands of people every year.
Each year, she prepares a new talk to take on the road. She tests it on an audience at a local church in her area. In a live setting, she can see how the talk impacts people and whether her jokes work.
There are many venues where you can speak for free:
- Networking Groups
- Toast Masters
If you already get paid to speak, you might be wondering why you would want to speak for free. Paid gigs come with a certain amount of pressure and expectation for you to deliver what the audience wants and likes.
As a volunteer speaker, much of that pressure is removed. You might still be a little nervous, but without the expectation, you’re likely to be more relaxed. You can also test new material without fear of failure because you’re giving them the gift of your time and your information for free.
You never know when being faithful in little things will lead to greater things in the future.
Prep several talks you can pitch to conferences.
When Jim Rubart first attended the Mount Hermon Writer’s Conference, he dreamt that “one day” he’d be ready to speak. But his wife pointed out he was already ready. He wasn’t ready to speak about writing, but he was ready to speak about marketing and branding because he’d been doing it professionally for years.
Host a meetup group to practice your new talks.
Even if you have to practice on people in your living room, practice your talks. I practice my talks by delivering them to my wife first. You’ll only become a better speaker with practice.
Get a critique partner.
Start a writer’s group and choose a critique partner from the group who can give you feedback. If you’re not sure how to connect with writers, take my course, How to Start a Writer’s Group.
As you do more public speaking, word will spread. I measure the success of a speaking gig by whether or not I get a future speaking invite from someone in the audience. Good public speaking leads to more public speaking, and more public speaking leads to more book sales. Find your courage, practice your talks and see your confidence and your book sales soar.
The Tax and Business Guide for Authors
In this course you will learn how to qualify for tax deductions for your writing-related expenses (not all writers qualify) and about 19 tax deductions authors can take advantage of. You will also learn how to start making a writing income even before your first book comes out.
You will also learn business fundamentals like when and how to form an LLC, how to create a business plan and how to reduce your chances of being audited by the IRS. The course is taught by Tom Umstattd a CPA with over 35 years of experience working with authors.
Thanks, I am inspired. I love speaking but never knew where I could share my skills. You’ve even got me thinking about starting writer’s group. I’m in one now but it doesn’t meet my needs. We are in different places on the journey. Maybe it’s time to do something about that.