PUBLISHED AUGUST 2017
by Jim Azevedo, Marketing Director, Smashwords -
The mention of public speaking can strike fear and self-doubt into the hearts of even the most courageous and successful publishing professionals. Most people loathe the thought of public speaking so much they won’t even give it a try. Therein lies your advantage. By simply giving it a try, you’ll open more opportunities to connect with more people.
The Benefits of Public Speaking
Myriad benefits arise from public speaking. Two obvious ones are additional recognition for you or your company and the opportunity to sell more books.
The more often you speak, the more recognizable you become. You may even be referred to as an expert in your particular niche. Personally, I dislike being called an expert and would never refer to myself as such. In an industry where change is constant, today’s advice du jour can be stale, if not inaccurate, by next week. However, if you can clearly articulate useful information that resonates with audiences, you’ll receive more invitations to speak. Whether you like it or not, over time people may start to refer to you as an expert.
A welcome and often unintended consequence of public speaking is that it can lead to more book sales. Your number one intention as a public speaker, however, is to educate and inspire your audiences. Never approach public speaking with the intention of selling. Nothing turns off an audience faster than a sales pitch.
Recognition and book sales are wonderful, but public speaking yields much more. You’ll start to notice a greater sense of confidence and poise on stage and off. You’ll gain a sense of fulfillment by assisting those who are new to the industry. An unavoidable benefit, and one that I cherish, is the sheer amount of talented people you’ll certainly meet—from publishers to agents, editors, authors, service providers, readers, and others.
Become a Good Speaker, and Stay that Way
If you learn nothing else from this article, I hope you’ll learn this: the best way to become a competent speaker is to get started right away and to speak often.
If you have no prior public speaking experience, and even if you do, consider joining a local Toastmasters club where you can practice in front of an audience. Toastmasters meetings provide excellent direction and unwavering support. Next, challenge yourself to uncover more opportunities to get in front of an audience, even if each appearance lasts only a couple minutes. Speaking venues can range from Toastmasters meetings, to a friend’s wedding, a presentation at work, a city council meeting, a church gathering, or even a presentation at a local writer’s club. The more you mix it up to expose yourself to different audiences, the better.
To stay sharp, I recommend speaking an average of once a month if you can. Nervousness and rust creep in when you’re inconsistent. When you speak often, you’re training your mind to say, “Oh, I’ve been here and felt this before. I survived. I’ve got this.”
Consistency leads to refinement. Research, preparation, and rehearsal will become routine and comfortable. You’ll discover every presentation is another chance to polish your message and delivery, and to encounter questions you hadn’t considered. You’ll be able to experiment with pacing, tone, and voice inflection. You’ll also learn the different technical issues that can (and will) arise minutes before you’re supposed to begin.
How to Get the Gig
If you’re interested in speaking at industry conferences,
do your research to learn if the topic(s) you intend to offer complements the curriculum. Most conferences publish schedules for upcoming and past events. Browse these listings to get a feel for the topics being offered and for the language used to describe the sessions so you can tailor your pitch. Conference websites usually provide a link where interested parties can submit speaking proposals. Follow their submission guidelines closely.
When submitting a proposal, be explicit when describing the value attendees will receive from your session. If your proposal is vague, the program director will move on to the next proposal. Write your session description in a way that provides clear, actionable information attendees will be able to put to immediate use. Pay attention to session “tracks” too, since conferences typically organize curriculum into tracks such as Business, Marketing, Design, Career, etc. Be sure to submit your proposal within the appropriate track.
During the proposal submission process, you may also be prompted to submit the type of session you’re suggesting, such as a workshop, a panel, keynote, or other. Most of your speaking engagements will be panels and workshops. Panel participation generally requires less preparation than a solo workshop, and panel sessions can attract larger audiences due to the number and variety of speakers. Panels can also be a great way to gain recognition. However, the risk of panel participation is that your messages can be diluted or lost in the kerfuffle of each speaker’s personal agenda. If you submit a panel suggestion, you may also be responsible for recruiting the other speakers and a moderator. A solo workshop, on the other hand, enables you to organize your thoughts and deliver your information exactly the way you intend.
If your public speaking journey is just beginning, and you’re certain you possess knowledge that can help others, why not start by approaching local writers’ clubs? If you’re not a member of a writers’ club already, there is no shortage of national writers organizations in the US, and most have local chapters. A quick Google search is sure to turn up writers’ clubs in your area. Gaining experience at the local level will help you progress and increase your chances of speaking at larger conferences since many conferences will ask where you’ve spoken before.
Public speaking is an exciting and fulfilling skill. It’s also an art that requires dedication and commitment. If you approach it with the intention of educating and inspiring your audiences, the benefits you’ll receive are immeasurable. Go into every presentation with the objective of providing value to your audience. Make your presentation alone worth the price of admission.
Jim Azevedo is the marketing director at Smashwords and a member of IBPA's Editorial Advisory Committee.