Giving a Talk About Your Book

Having run the Stanford Publishing Courses for over 15 years, I had the good fortune of working with some of the most eloquent and polished speakers in the country–including John Kennedy, Jr., Guy Kawasaki, Brendan Gill, Joyce Maynard, Nigel Holmes, Dick Stolley, Helen Gurley Brown, Michela O’Connor Abrams and Paul Saffo.

I’ve also worked with speakers who have a lot to say, but who don’t deliver the way they should.

I spent this past week preparing to give a talk on self-publishing, and at the same time I was working with a client who needed to polish her own talk, so all those little lessons on speaking in front of a crowd are currently top-of-mind.

So my recommendation is this: If you have a book to promote, spend some time learning how to give a great talk. From my experience, here are the keys:

  1. Calibrate your audience. See who’s out there. Ask them a question or two at the beginning of your talk. Notice them.
  2. Put yourself into your talk. People are interested in connecting with you, not your “content,” so tell them a story about how you came to write this book. Describe your journey. Make it detailed. Tell the truth.
  3. Keep the powerpoints. Ditch the bulletpoints. Create a powerpoint that’s 90 percent graphics. Use it as your backdrop, and keep the focus of your audience on your face. Avoid all bulletpoints. Remember: your actual talk is in your pocket, not on the screen.
  4. Get out from behind that podium. It is not a bullet-proof shield.
  5. Learn to Pause. Want to punch up the emotion behind your message? Just add silence. Let the quiet fill the room. All eyes will return to you.
  6. Leave them with takeaways. Organize your talk so that you give your audience something to take with them: three tips, a pearl of advice, a white paper, a handful of jelly bellies, an inspiring story, a song running through their heads, a chart or graph or photograph, a piece of your book.

If you want more inspiration, spend some time checking out the video speech critiques on the excellent website Six Minutes: Speaking & Presentation Skills, including one that critiques this TED talk by author Elizabeth Gilbert.

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