Author Speaking Engagements: Tips for a Successful Event

author speaking to a rapt audience

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Speaking engagements and writing go hand-in-hand. This may seem weird, as many writers get into writing specifically because it does not involve public speaking. But speaking engagements are a time-tested way for authors to engage with their readers and drive more book sales.

Speaking engagements can also be lucrative in and of themselves, especially in the business world. So much so, that many nonfiction writers specifically write books to establish themselves as experts in their fields so that they will land choice speaking engagements.

Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, and whether you are pursuing speaking engagements to sell books or writing books to land gigs, you’ll need careful planning, preparation, and execution to make this work.

Identify your goals

Before embarking on trying to land speaking engagements, take a moment to identify your goals as this will inform all of your decisions. Simply writing a book does not mean you should head out on a speaking tour.

Do you see speaking engagements as a way to make connections in your local/regional community? Would you like to establish yourself as a professional keynote speaker or as a regular presenter at school assemblies? Are you trying to position yourself as an inspiring motivational speaker for universities?

If you’ve answered “no” to all of these questions, and/or get nervous at the very idea of public speaking, then perhaps speaking engagements aren’t for you. And that’s OK. There are plenty of other ways to promote when you’re considering how to market your book.

What do you have to say?

Just because you’ve written a book doesn’t automatically qualify you as someone worth hiring for a public-speaking gig. You need to work out exactly what it is you’re going to say and why this will make you a draw. After all, the venue/business/school/library that you are asking to hire you or allow you to speak is going to want something out of it.

If you’ve written a business guide or a self-help book, then your subject matter seems pretty clear-cut. If you’ve written a murder mystery… perhaps not so much. In the latter case, you can offer yourself up as a writing expert and pitch your talents to colleges and writing groups. If you are a children’s book author, your presentation doesn’t have to have anything to do with your book. But if you are going to approach schools, your presentation should have an educational angle and be entertaining.

So when figuring out what you are going to say, it often helps to think about it from the perspective of the venue: What can you bring to the table that will appeal to the business, school, bookstore, library, etc.?

Structuring your presentation

You can’t wing your presentation and expect to connect with your audience. If you’re struggling to figure out how to structure your talk, start by keeping it simple. The classic rule from journalism is to tell your audience what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then sum up what you’ve told them.

Here is some good advice from the folks at TEDx on one way to structure a presentation.

  1. Start by making your audience care, using a relatable example or an intriguing idea.
  2. Explain your idea clearly and with conviction.
  3. Describe your evidence and how and why your idea could be implemented.
  4. End by addressing how your idea could affect your audience if they were to accept it.

Whatever structure you decide on, remember:

  1. The primary goal of your talk is to communicate an idea effectively.
  2. Your structure should be invisible to the audience. In other words, don’t talk about how you’re going to talk about your topic — just talk about it!

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Keep your audience engaged

Remember, you’re there to entertain, not bore your audience. Here are a few tips to help you keep things interesting as a public speaker.

  • Tell stories. People love anecdotes as it helps them see how your topic may apply to their own life or situation
  • If you’re funny, tell jokes. Don’t force it, but if you have the gift of humor, use it to your advantage. Just keep in mind that everything you say should stick to the theme of your talk.
  • Use visual aids. Visual aids and multimedia can enhance your presentation, but use them judiciously — they should complement your words, not overshadow them.
  • Ask questions. Integrate open-ended questions throughout your talk to foster interaction and keep the audience engaged. This works really well for kids!

Manage time effectively

Free guide offer for Promote Then PublishTime management is a critical aspect of any speaking engagement. Develop a pacing strategy that allows you to cover all the essential points without rushing or dragging the presentation. Allocate time for transitions between topics and, most importantly, for a Q&A session. Audience interaction is invaluable, as it allows you to address specific queries and connect with attendees on a personal level.

Practice, practice, practice

One speaking engagement can lead to several more, so you want to know your presentation inside and out before going live. Film yourself giving your presentation. Practice in front of friends and family to get their feedback. Use a timer to make sure you are sticking to your schedule.

How to book speaking engagements

Securing speaking engagements can be difficult, especially for new authors. You could work with an event planner or go the completely independent route to plan an upcoming event. You’ll need to identify suitable opportunities, reach out to event organizers, and pitch yourself as a speaker.

Where to book your speaking engagement

One common mistake many new authors make is approaching every event without considering their goals first. Ask yourself who your audience is and where they might be willing to gather to hear you speak. When you identify a venue or event that seems like a good fit for you, ask yourself if you are a good fit for them.

Figure out who to contact

When it comes to landing a speaking engagement, knowing who to speak to is half the battle. A pitch addressed to a specific person will have a lot more impact than one addressed “To Whom It May Concern.”

Talk to your fellow writers first to see if they have any leads. If you want to speak at an event, seek out the meeting planner or event organizer. If you want to speak at a school, call the school district and ask who books school assemblies. LinkedIn and Google will be your friend.

Create a speaker’s press kit

Even if you’ve never given a public speech before, you need to appear like a seasoned professional, and part of that is creating a speaker’s press kit. This is a single-page flyer or PDF you can deliver to event and venue bookers. It should include:

  • Your “about the author” blurb
  • Your credentials
  • What your presentation is about
  • One or two testimonials
  • Your book cover
  • Your contact information

Create your pitch

Tailor your pitch to address the needs of the venue or event. If you can speak to someone in person, that’s ideal, but an email can also be effective. Be concise and specific. Mention what benefit you will bring to their organization or event, and include your press kit.

After sending your email or delivering your pitch, follow up with an email two days later. If you still haven’t heard back, try one last time a week after that.

Delivering your talk

Once you’ve landed a gig, keep these things in mind.

Arrive early

Arrive at least a half hour before your event so you have plenty of time to get set up and address any concerns. If you are speaking at a school and need to use the AV equipment, give yourself even more time because I’ve learned the hard way that schools usually only have one AV person and they are often hard to find or busy dealing with other issues.

Adapt to unexpected situations

No matter how well you plan, unexpected situations will arise during a speaking engagement. Technical difficulties, venue issues, or changes in the schedule are all possibilities. The key to successfully navigating these challenges is flexibility and improvisation skills. Practice thinking on your feet and have backup plans in place. Being able to adapt seamlessly not only demonstrates your professionalism but also keeps the audience engaged and invested in your presentation.

Build a connection with the audience

Establishing rapport with your audience goes a long way in making your message resonate. The key to this is very simple: Be a human being. Share personal anecdotes (as long as they align with your content) that allow the audience to see the person standing before them.

Use social media and networking

Social media plays a pivotal role in event promotion and audience engagement. Be sure to post on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. to create buzz before, during, and after the event. Share teasers about your presentation, engage with potential attendees, and encourage them to spread the word. Post videos of the event afterward. Take advantage of networking opportunities with attendees. Building relationships can lead to future speaking opportunities and collaborations.

Physical promotion

If your engagement is open to the public, be sure to post posters or flyers in the area to drum up interest.

And of course, you’ll want to have physical copies of your book at your presentation. BookBaby’s Complete Self-Publishing Packages include everything you need to design, format, and publish a professional-looking book that will impress attendees at all your author speaking engagements.

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