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Friday, July 25, 2008

Killer Campaigns: Con Speaking

Panels on writing, business, or promotion can range from dull to "can't write all the good stuff fast enough".

And who among of us has ever sat in the audience hoping the speaker will tell us the big secrets that will get our books published?

This is basically why we go to workshop panels—to learn what we don't already know.

But even that's not enough. You have to be interesting too. Almost any of us can accumulate enough knowledge and share it. But there are surprisingly few people who can fascinate us from beginning to end with their delivery.

I've noted a few things that make for a successful and interesting panelist/speaker.

• Know your topic. That's a given, wouldn't you think? But I've attended workshops where the audience knew more than the lecturer. I would have thought it funny except for the fact I paid for that workshop.

• Stay on topic. Even if it's an interesting discussion, it can sometimes be annoying when the panel or speaker goes off on a tangent.

• Bring something new to the equation. Nothing frustrates me more than hearing a speaker who regurgitates info I could have gotten anywhere. For example, if you are going to talk about historical research, don't tell us to do a keyword search on the internet. Tell us to visit museums, read diaries of the period, or locate city records. Wander cemeteries, read era cookbooks, and haunt antique stores.

In other words, think outside the box.

• If you're on a panel, share and share alike. Panels contain anywhere from two to six people. I don't think I've ever been to one with more than six—and six was too many in my opinion. The more boisterous speakers overshadow the quiet ones. If the quiet ones had anything of import to say, they are too timid or too polite to grab the microphone.

People are chosen for panels for their expertise. Be polite and offer the quieter panelists a chance to speak. Don't hog the limelight, no matter how much you think your public adores you.

• And if you happen to be the sole speaker, please don't bring everything back to how brilliant YOU are. You'll create as many antagonists as you will minions.

People who flatter themselves are a big turnoff for me. I don't mean brags as in: "Hey, my book hit the NY bestseller's list". That's not conceit, that's stating a fact. I'm talking about things like name dropping and ego stroking in order to make the offender more important than he really is.

My thinking is that people who sing their own praises at events where they are supposed to speak about a topic other than themselves are looking for minions. And I'm not really minion material.

Stay approachable, and grounded.

• When an audience member asks a question, repeat the question so the whole room knows what's being discussed. Always remember the poor schmoe in the back of the room. (That would be me.)

• the nuns used to drill into me. Speak in a clear, loud voice. Remember also, not to race through your lecture. People are trying to take notes as you talk.

• Be polite. People probably paid good money to hear you speak. Treat everyone with respect, including your co-panelists and the moderator.

• It's okay to talk about your book. Just don't do it with every other sentence. If an author mentions it more than 3 times in the course of the lecture, it comes off as a sales spiel. Focus on your topic.

• If the workshop organizers don't hand out a feedback form to the audience, type one up yourself and hand it out. Sweeten the deal by making it a drawing, offering one of your books as the prize. Not only will more people take the time to give you feedback, but you might even earn a new reader that way. Be sure to announce the winner on your website to draw traffic.

• One thing I'd like to see done more often is for speakers to hand out business cards and/or bookmarks. Many times after the lecture, I'd like to learn more about a speaker. A handy business card would have encouraged me to travel to that speaker's site.

The more interesting you come across, the more likely people will want to learn more about you. And the more they learn about you, the more likely they are to pick up one of your books.

As always, treat your author identity as your brand. You want to be sparkly, intelligent and witty. Just like your books!

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J.K. Coi said...

It may seem like common sense "know your topic" and "stay on topic", but you'd be surprised how many speakers I've heard that can't do gets frustrating.

Maria Zannini said...

Yup. But word gets around too. There have been workshops I've attended because they got good press through the grapevine, and others I've passed up because I heard the speakers were bad.

Tricia said...

I wish some of the panelists at ConestogaCon last weekend had read this. Maybe I'll forward it to some of them.

Maria Zannini said...

Interesting that you said that. I've read mixed reviews on ConestogaCon this year.