Public speaking is one of the best ways to sell more books. A conference speaker often sells 30-60% more books when they are the keynote speaker than when they simply have a book table available.
In this episode, we’re going to talk about how to become an excellent public speaker.
Before you say, “I’m never going to speak! I’m outta here,” don’t go just yet. If you’re painfully shy and introverted, you can still be a wonderful speaker.
When bestselling novelist James L. Rubart graduated from college with a degree in broadcast journalism, he learned that most people on the air, whose voices you recognize, are shy and introverted.
Outside of the studio, they don’t seem like performers. Yet when they’re behind the microphones, they can tell engaging stories and capture people’s attention.
Actors are often the same way. In person, they’re rarely like the person you see on the screen.
So if you feel shy and introverted, you’re not alone! Some of the most famous and best-paid speakers are introverted. No one is born good at speaking. It’s a learned skill, and anyone can learn to do it better.
How to Become a Better Public Speaker
Nervousness Is Normal
Even after hundreds of speeches, experienced speakers still get nervous, and it’s actually a good thing. It’s hard to make music on guitar strings without tension, and your nervousness provides the tension that will make your speech sing.
I find that I give my best talks when I’m nervous. When I’ve given a talk so many times that I’m not nervous, it actually hurts my performance. Public speaking requires energy on stage. Nervous energy is a great source for that.
On the other hand, nervousness can conqueror you. So how do you get the butterflies in your stomach to fly in formation?
The more I practice my talks, the less nervous I become and the better I can control my nerves. I’ve also found that jitters are worst as I walk to the stage and in the first few minutes of the talk. If I’m practiced up, the nerves diminish once I get started.
You only appear to be10% as nervous as you feel. As an audience member, you rarely notice that a speaker is nervous because nervousness is internal. Even shaking hands are very subtle and rarely noticed by the audience.
If you’ve felt terrible about a previous performance, go back and listen to a recording. You may be surprised to find that it wasn’t as bad as you thought at the time. Record yourself with your smartphone, and then listen so you can improve the things you didn’t like.
It’s Not About You
Public speaking isn’t mainly about you. It’s about your audience.
Your performance regret is partly because you knew in your head how you wanted it to sound, but you also know how it came out.
Your audience only knows how it actually sounded, and they’re not making a comparison to the ideal in your head. If they laughed at your joke, it was still funny to them, even if it wasn’t as funny as it could have been.
An attitude of service helps you get over yourself. Your purpose on stage is to be a blessing to the audience. When you focus on entertaining, educating, and encouraging your audience, you’ll feel less nervous.
You Don’t Have to Be Perfect
You don’t have to be super polished or perfect. If your presentation makes your audience’s lives better, you’ve succeeded. Some speakers read their presentations because they want to be perfect. But the goal is to relay important concepts, stories, and content, not give a memorized speech.
James L. Rubart often says, “If you need a stack of notecards, you’re not ready to give the talk.” He’d rather have a speaker wing it and communicate the ideas they’re so familiar with rather than reading from notecards. People want authenticity, and when your speech seems canned, they won’t connect.
On the other hand, I always have notes in front of me when I speak. I was the state champion in impromptu speaking during my senior year, and even then, I had note cards. I didn’t write it word-for-word, but I had the main points outlined on my cards. Your notes help you stay on track.
In academic environments, you may need to read an essay or a study, but that’s generally not the best strategy for selling books. People want an entertaining, conversational extemporaneous style, where you’re looking at the audience and interacting with them.
If the audience looks bored, move on to your next point. Your next point might be more engaging. If not, move through your material quickly, and get off the stage. No one will complain that your presentation was too short.
To Use a Slide Deck or Not?
Mac users make Keynote presentations, and PC users make PowerPoint presentations, but do they add value to your talk?
Used correctly, a slide deck can be very effective. If you type your outline or a paragraph of text in white font on a black background and read it to your audience, then your slide deck doesn’t add value or interest to your talk. In fact, research shows, it may actually inhibit the audience’s comprehension and retention.
An outline is for your own use. It’s like underwear. It’s good to have, but it’s not for everyone to see. If you put your bullet points in your PowerPoint slides, it’s like standing in front of your audience in your underwear.
One Idea Per Slide
If you create slides, use one idea per slide. A list of bullets violates that principle. You can improve your slide deck by simply giving each point its own slide.
Use an Image to Illustrate the Concept
You can easily choose an accompanying image to illustrate your point when you only have one idea per slide. If you can’t think of an image to demonstrate your point, it may mean your idea is too vague, and you need to clarify it.
Keep your Visual Presentation Separate from Your Outline Document
If people want a hard copy of your talk, create a Word document that you can hand out after your presentation. If you provide it while you’re still speaking, you’ll kill the dramatic tension, and they’ll be reading instead of listening.
I use image slides when I present because I’m talking about technical topics, and images can make abstract concepts more concrete. But if using slides seems intimidating to you, don’t worry about it! Just get up there and tell some stories, and people will love you. If you’re a good storyteller, slides can actually hurt your presentation.
Personality Trumps Vocabulary
Your words are important, but they’re not as important as your personality. Think about the last five talks you’ve heard. Do you remember the words or the person? You’re likely to remember whether the speaker was genuine even though you’ve forgotten their specific words.
Your vulnerability, as displayed in your personality, is critical for good public speaking. People are human lie detectors. They can smell inauthenticity from a mile away. Use your passion to make yourself memorable. Even if people are already familiar with the topic, your passion, animation, and energy keep them engaged and allow them to enjoy your presentation.
You’re already yourself. Be the name-brand version of yourself, not a knock-off version of someone else. You don’t have to copy another speaker’s style. Present in a way that’s true to who you are.
I once heard that if you want to give a good speech, introduce yourself, tell ten stories, and say goodbye. That might not be a perfect formula, but it’s good advice because people remember stories. People have an easier time remembering fiction and anecdotes than facts and statistics.
I use two different styles of presentation. One is a keynote style that’s inspirational and energizing, and the other is an educational workshop style. My keynotes are full of stories. My workshops have more points.
If I’m teaching on Search Engine Optimization, the value is in my content and the Q & A with the audience at the end. If I’m speaking on the psychology of marketing, I open with the story of the three little pigs, and it’s one of my most popular talks. Sometimes people fear marketing and technology, so there is tension in the room. But when I start with the three little pigs, I can see the people relax.
Good storytelling takes practice. The key to a good story is dramatic tension. Never give away the ending at the beginning. Don’t open a speech with a summary, and don’t open a story with how it ends. You want people to wonder how it ends.
Use their curiosity as your ally. Plant a question in their minds early in your talk and answer it toward the end. It will be much easier to keep them engaged if you do.
Look at People in Your Audience
Beginning speakers know they’re supposed to look up and look around, but they often end up looking over the tops of people’s heads. Look down just slightly so you can make very brief eye contact with the people you’re talking to.
When you look into their eyes for a brief second, they’ll feel connected, as though you’re talking to them personally. You don’t need to maintain eye contact the whole time with every audience member, but you do need to connect emotionally through eye contact.
As you look them in the eye, you’ll get a sense of whether they’re bored, curious, confused, or excited. If everyone looks confused, stop and figure out why. If everyone looks bored, move on or skip a point.
Start with a Strong Hook
As authors, we know that we need to start our books with a strong first sentence. You begin a talk the same way you start a book. What’s your first sentence, and does it surprise, delight, or intrigue?
I start with the three little pigs. James L. Rubart often starts with a magic trick. Both are unexpected, and they grab people’s attention. What’s the hook of your talk? Determine how you can grab their attention from the start.
While you don’t want to deliver a completely memorized speech, it can be good to have your hook, or the first few minutes, memorized. If you’re nervous, you can rely on your memory to get you going. By the time you’re done with your stellar hook, you and your audience have relaxed, and you can move into your content.
Maintain an Attitude Worth Emulating
Attitudes are contagious. Are yours worth catching? The audience will pick up on your cues. If you’re frustrated, they’ll sense it. If you’re having fun, they’ll have fun too.
Get to know TED
The TED Talk event happens only once a year. The best of the best gather to share their expertise in the forum. TED Talks are unique and well-delivered. They’re typically 18 minutes long, which is a difficult time frame. An 18-minute presentation must be substantive but shorter than a typical seminar talk. It’s a challenging speaking format, and their presenters are often the best in the world.
Watch some TED talks and study how they’re put together. Assess which parts you think are good and compelling or bad and boring.
There are also local events called TEDx, which are organized by speakers in a geographical area for a TED-like experience, but you’ll find the best presentations are given at the annual TED event.
Get Three Critique Partners
Critique partners are the key to helping you improve your public speaking.
Partner with another writer who wants to start speaking. You can deliver your talks to each other and provide feedback before you take your presentation live.
You can get an app on your phone to record your whole talk. Listen to your recording. If certain parts sound unclear, forced, or boring, make changes. You can also video record your presentation to see the mannerisms, movements, and expressions you use and perhaps need to change.
You can get feedback about your talk from people in your audience. At conferences, audience members are often asked to complete a survey or feedback form at the end of a session. That information can help improve your talk.
You might also consider setting up your phone at the front of the room to record the audience. Later, you can listen to your talk and watch the audience’s reaction as you move through your stories or points. You’ll see where they laughed or got bored, and you can cut or improve portions that don’t resonate.
All of this assumes you’ll give the same talk multiple times. The best speakers are the best because they’ve given the talk so many times. They’ve had lots of practice. If you’re just starting, practice on audiences for free until you get too busy. Then raise your rates until your speaking schedule slows to the pace you prefer.
When I develop a new talk, I’ll often deliver it to a live audience before taking it on the road. It’s a technique I learned from Liz Curtis Higgs, who speaks to 100,000 people every year. She feels she owes her audiences a polished talk, so when she developed a new talk, she delivers it to a test audience at a local church for free.
I have also done a “pay what you want” event for a local audience of authors when I’m practicing. Sometimes it’s only for a few authors, but their feedback is helpful.
Authors have been using public speaking to connect with readers and sell books since Mark Twain dazzled audiences around the world in 1878. It’s a learned skill that requires practice and maintenance, but it’s a powerful technique for making emotional connections with people, and emotional connection sells books.
If you’re ready to start delivering your content from the stage, you can learn how to connect with even organizers by listening to our episode on How to Get your First Speaking Gigs.
This is Molly Jo’s debut novel, just released, so congratulations! I love her tagline for the novel, “the past never stays buried” … NOLA is set in New Orleans and is a murderous love story with twists and turns galore. You can check it out on Amazon and most other places books are sold. Thank you, Molly Jo for being a Patreon supporter of the Novel Marketing podcast.