MARKETING MATTERS: Speaking of Sales

Kathleen Y'Barbo

Blogger:  Kathleen Y’Barbo

Location:  The Woodlands, Texas PR Office

Weather:  Sunny, high in the low 60s

Anyone who has been a writer for long has been confronted with this question: Do you do speaking engagements? For some, this question is met with an enthusiastic yes. Others, however, are not so thrilled with the chance to stand up and be heard. It is for this reluctant group–of which I was once a member–= that I write today’s post. Ladies and gentlemen, I submit the secret to a successful speaking career is to begin, be good, and be brave.

1.  Begin among friends. Start locally by offering to speak to your writers group, your Bible study group, or perhaps a friend’s book club. Small gatherings are a great place to test out your skills, especially when you’re among friends. From there, you can branch out to offer workshops at bookstores, conferences, and other larger gatherings. As with any endeavor, practice makes perfect so start with those who will forgive the occasional flub of a word or mental lapse.

2. Be good. Notice I do not say be perfect. Know your material. Craft your talks around topics that are of interest to you. Writers almost always make fabulous speakers on the subject of writing.

Nonfiction books always generate at least one excellent speaking topic, but what about fiction? Novels, too, have subject matter that can be used for talks, be it in the actual topics covered or in the take-away the author has included. Case in point: author Janice Thompson’s book Hurricane, which is set during the Galveston hurricane of 1900. Janice turned her novel’s topic into speaking engagements to not only writers but also to historical societies, museum groups, and more.

3. Be brave. I considered putting this first. However, many of us would then offer up the excuse that until the fear of public speaking–often listed as the #1 fear among adults–left. Do not wait for the butterflies in your gut to flee. Trust me on this. As my friend Drenda Thomas, author of Saints and Scoundrels of the Bible, says, “Do it scared.” For some, the fear goes away after a few events. For others, the knocking knees only stop when the speech is over. However, all who have taken the microphone in hand despite the trembling will attest that conquering this universal phobia is supremely satisfying.

Now it’s your turn. What are your thoughts on public speaking? Is the terror you feel at standing behind the podium worth the sales it will generate? I’d love to hear your thoughts, opinions, and experiences.

19 Responses

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  1. Deb Wuethrich says:

    During one of my first speaking engagements before the Northwest Ohio Writers Association, I learned something about faith that I had only heard before. When you reach one of those moments that you falter, the Holy Spirit steps in. It is a wonderful thing to realize that yes, preparation is important, but to live in the reality that God is alive and well and working in us when we witness, which many of us are doing based on the topics of our books, is to embrace an astounding thing. By the way, I love the blogs and glad to have found them!

  2. Teri D. Smith says:

    A friend who researched public speaking told me that the horrible cold sweat and heart-pounding for those who fear speaking usually lasts only 90 seconds. Then the body recovers. I’ve never felt it, but my friend said that just knowing the worst will be over in 90 seconds helps.

    But I agree with your post. Start small among friends, be prepared, and be brave. Good tips.

  3. I love the motto: “Do it scared.”

    I have been preaching and teaching since 1979. Speak four times every weekend. still get stage fright EVERY TIME. I get nervous, freaked out, ready to run for the nearest exit.

    They said that Johnny Carson got stage fright every show he ever did.

    Yeah… do it scared. Ask God’s Spirit to fill you, and leave the results to him.

    Bill Giovannetti

  4. CKHB says:

    I’ve never found public speaking to be a terribly big deal… I guess I’m in the minority!

  5. Laura Cross says:

    Aghh… I hate public speaking. For years, I tried everything to get through the fear – even private coaching sessions. Ultimately, I found what works best for me is appearing as a guest speak on a panel -they’re more casual and I do well with the Q&A format. I feel more comfortable not having to stand on a stage ALONE.

  6. KC Frantzen says:

    Thank you so much for these great tips and thoughtful comments. I’m learning so much from everyone!
    Have a marvelous weekend!!

  7. Lynn Dean says:

    I’ve always thought one of the most descriptive verses in the Bible was when Belshazzar saw the writing on the wall. “His thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.”

    Ummm…yeah. That’s how it feels when you first look out over an audience of any size. But usually as soon as I get into comfortable territory, speaking about something I know with confidence, the feeling passes and my knees quit “smiting one another.” 🙂

  8. Oh my goodness, Lynn. That’s exactly what it’s like. Who knew stage fright was biblical???

  9. LOL at the Belshazzar reference. I have to agree that I’m most nervous speaking to a group when I’m not exactly 100% comfortable with the topic. But put me in a room with kids and I can talk with ease – there is something so accepting about kids. They just accept you for who you are. To bad more adults aren’t that way.

  10. LeAnne Hardy says:

    But heaven help you, Lynnette, if your material doesn’t hold their interest! They may be accepting, but they aren’t necessarily polite.

    I get stage fright too, but looking back, I think my life motto has been, “I’m scared isn’t a good enough reason to say no.”

  11. A couple of things helped me get over stage fright.

    One, I taught volunteer trainings on a subject I was qualified to teach. In the process, I discovered that coming to the microphone with a POV of imparting helpful knowledge to the recipients took the focus off of myself and onto others. This carried over to speaking engagements in front of general audiences. I come with the attitude of bringing something of value to them.

    Second, I come:
    -knowledgeable about my subject
    -in an attitude of telling my story (who can
    deny what I found to be true in my own life?)
    -humbly, knowing that God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness.

  12. I enjoy speaking engagements. The secret is to focus on what I have to offer and how I can help the audience rather than what they think of me. And I always pray that what I say and what the audience thinks and remembers will be according to God’s will.

    Speaking engagements are a great opportunity to meet nice people and there are plenty of those out there. And even if someone disagrees with what I say ‘ve never had anyone throw rotten eggs at me yet.

  13. Lenore Buth says:

    Great post, Kathleen. I’ll remember your Big Three. I think a bit of “excitement” is supposed to be a good thing, isn’t it? There’s nothing more fun than looking out aand seeing audience members nodding in agreement and taking notes. I expect it could be addicting.

  14. Lenore Buth says:

    P.S. Sorry for the typo, since I do know how to spell “and.” Blame it on tired eyes…

  15. Jennifer says:

    “Do it scared”. Ah yes…another one of my favorites is Eleanor Roosevelt’s “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” I have been asked to do public speaking before (not with my writing) and I find it easiest when I’m able to speak on something I’m interested in and passionate about. Once my book is complete, I will be able to talk more about it, and if anyone asks me to speak on it, I shall throw back my shoulders and say “YES!”.


  16. When I knew that some day I would be asked to speak about writing, to lead a workshop, or to promote a book, I joined Toastmasters to help me prepare for that day.
    It’s good to know your topic well, to pray for wisdom and guidance, but it’s also good to get in there and practise with a group of folks one trusts and to refine one’s presentation in preparation for the real world opoortunities.
    Impromptu speaking is just as important as the prepared speech.

  17. I’ve always been terrified of public speaking, hate standing up in front of people, hate being the center of attention. Yet, at my first writers’ conference, I looked at the speaker and thought I want to do that. Nine years later, I’m finally contracted and embarking on a speaking career. I’ve done three workshops for local writers’ groups and one for children through Modern Woodmen of America. I’m in talks with my son’s school about a short story workshop for 5th graders and with two local writers’ conferences for 2010 and 2011. By then, my book will actually be out and hopefully all of this is getting my name out there and will eventually help sales. Either way, I’m having so much fun. The first time, my voice did that little quivery thing for a minute or two. After that, I was fine. I don’t even get nervous anymore. When it comes to a conference, more people might make me nervous, but I’ll get past it.

  18. Great points for speaking! I’ve always believed that being scared is a good thing. It gives you that little extra enthusiasm you need to make your presentation zing.

  19. Eva Ulian says:

    Having prepared a summary of what you are going to say takes away a good percentage of the fear,I’ve found. Of course the butterflies remain but once you are off,it’s as if you were in your sitting room. Some fear questions, but if one sticks to the truth, they too can be overcome, even though I’m not saying it’s just a piece of cake, but then what satisfaction would there be in it if it was?