Editor’s Note: We know that most in person events have been put on hold for the time being, but all of this great advice still applies to virtual book launches, zoom calls, and so on!

Talking to groups of people face-to-face is a great way to promote books. It’s also something that a great many of us avoid. Fear holds us back. We don’t want to be the focal point for an audience.

However, there are tips and tricks that we can practise to boost our confidence and become effective speakers.

When I was writing my first psychological thriller Bedsit Three, I realised that I had to conquer my fear of public speaking if I was to promote the book effectively. So, after a great deal of procrastination, I joined my local Speakers’ Club. Speakers’ Clubs in the UK operate in a very similar way to the worldwide Toastmasters organisation. Over the next few years I learnt a lot in a ‘safe’ environment. I watched lots of other speakers and received feedback on my own performance. I learnt how to engage and entertain an audience. My confidence improved greatly and in 2018 I reached the national final of the Association of Speakers’ Clubs speech competition.

But the fear of public speaking never disappears completely. That’s a good thing because a little bit of fear produces the adrenaline needed by a speaker to give a good performance. Two things in particular help me reduce the fear to a manageable level:

  • Positive Visualisation. Never let failure be an option. When you are preparing for a speaking event, always visualise yourself speaking confidently to an attentive audience.
  • When you stand up to speak, step into ‘performer mode’. This is like an actor stepping into the shoes of a character. When speaking to a group of people, flick a switch and become a bigger, brighter version of yourself!

Successful public speaking is largely due to proper preparation. Giving a talk is like an iceberg: for every minute spent in front of the audience there are many more minutes spent at home preparing and practising. That preparation can be split into two parts; constructing the talk and practising its delivery.

There are two important things to remember when planning the content of a talk:

  • Hook the audience with a brilliant beginning. If you don’t interest them at the start, the audience’s minds will drift in and out of the presentation and you will sell fewer books as a result. Examples of a brilliant beginning include: a startling statistic such as, “97% of people hate their day job”, an arresting quote such as “I have planned the perfect murder” or a quick straw poll relevant to the book you are talking about, for example, “Put your hand up if you’ve ever been in love.”
  • Less is more. People will only remember a small percentage of what you say so don’t include a lot of facts. Instead focus on only a few key points but deliver them in a memorable way by painting pictures with your words. Your job is to whet people’s appetites for more on the subject so that they buy the book.

Good delivery of a talk is vital. Bear the following in mind when practising the delivery at home:

  • Use of notes is acceptable but the notes should be bullet points only. This enables you to have a reminder of what you want to say but you can then make good eye contact with the audience whilst you talk around each point.
  • Build in some hand/body gestures to bring the talk alive. For example if you mention the ‘whole world’, let your hands make the shape of a globe. Clench your fist to illustrate determination and if you mention a number, hold up the correct number of figures, for example, “There are four stages in writing a novel”.

I’ve gathered together lots more hints and tips on addressing an audience in my book Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners. There’s more on constructing and delivering a speech, managing speaking engagements and speaking at special occasions such as weddings, funerals and celebration parties.

Don’t let the fear of public speaking put you off promoting your work to book clubs, library audiences and the multitude of other community groups who regularly use (and pay!) outside speakers at their meetings.

Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners is available on Kobo and Kindle.

Sally Jenkins is a writer and speaker. She has published two psychological thrillers, written many short stories and articles for magazines and her fiction has been successful in competitions. She blogs about all things reading and writing at www.sally-jenkins.com and you can find her on Twitter @sallyjenkinsuk or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SallyJenkinsAuthor/.

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