People give talks for many reasons.
For some, it's about sharing an interest
and getting to know people.
Maybe it's part of an exhibition, to
attract the crowds.
Perhaps you are a researcher about to
publish your work and it's a good way to stimulate discussion.
Many writers finish their beloved book and are shocked to discover that it's only the beginning of a long process of promotions, marketing, making appearances and actually SELLING the book. Few publishers make you aware of what that really entails! And I know that from personal experience.
- Practical arrangements - I make sure I know where I'm going, how I'm getting there, travel times to and from, likely weather conditions, and also what the venue offers, eg, seating arrangements, does it have a projector? Will I be using my own laptop, and what connection does it need for their equipment? If the projector fails, can I still deliver the talk? For a large audience, it helps if I have a microphone and someone to help me set that up (and it helps if I practise with the microphone - I have frequently embarrassed myself!)
- Promoting the event - I might not be organising the event, but my own promotions can be vital, getting people to turn up. Social media these days requires paid advertising to reach people. Can I afford that? If the organiser has posted an event on facebook, I always circulate that widely. My publisher supplies free posters and flyers, and I circulate those, with the agreement of the organiser. I make sure all my friends and fans know, and ensure that I'm promoting the CORRECT information.
- The audience - before writing my talk, I need to know the nature of my audience; how many will likely be there and what their interests are. If it's part of a themed event, I keep that in mind, and keep it relevant.
- Be entertaining - My number one rule is "don't be boring". My subjects aren't always light, but I'm never dreary and try not to drone on. Personal stories or exciting tales are better than a list of facts. If there are complex facts or statistics to convey, I do a handout. Simple graphs and maps are good, also images of people involved. Peter Holt from the Ships Project is the best local speaker I know - entertaining and informative, amusing and conversational, and some great stories. I try to emulate him if I can.
- Time - I always finish slightly earlier than expected; audiences appreciate it, particularly if it's a long talk, and it gives more time for questions. Hopefully I leave them wanting more. I always practise to time my talks, and keep pace in mind. People's attention wavers every ten minutes, so for long talks, I keep changing the tone and frequently introduce something new, maybe asking them a question to wake them up a bit.
- Images - A mix of images is best, so if there's a lot of black and white, I try to add some colour. Images downloaded from the internet can look fuzzy when projected, so I invest in good quality images when I can afford it. Each image should remain up for at least 2 minutes, so the audience can get chance to see them. I try to avoid flicking between images too often.
- Notes - I never read off the screen or my laptop. I always have the notes in my hand, preferably on card. I tell stories, so I'm often reading verbatim, but the more I know my material, the more I can make eye contact with the audience. Of course, short 'prompt' notes are best, but I'm always nervous and I have the memory of an ageing goldfish, so I do have over-long notes. One day I'll be able to put the notes away, but I'm nowhere near that yet! Lecterns can be a nightmare - they can block your audience's view so need careful management.
- Getting to know people - I always know the organiser's name and greet them on arrival. I swap mobile phone numbers with them before the event, so I can notify them if I'm running late or there's a problem - I always aim to arrive early, but cars can break down. Arriving early gives me time to chat to audience members beforehand too, which can help give me a better sense of the crowd. I see too many speakers concentrating on their notes or the equipment before the talk, and while I understand speakers may be nervous, it can really break the ice if you can chat to a few people instead. I find the audience likes to talk, so I'm a good listener. And a bit of small talk works wonders.
- Free giveaways /prizes - I often discover there's a raffle being held at the event, often part of their fund-raising campaign for a local charity. I always offer a free signed copy of my book/s as a prize. Another good ice-breaker. And results in a delighted reader.
- My fee - most organisations so far have offered me an appearance fee, usually around £30. I tell them to donate it to a charity of their choice; they are usually supporting a local charity and I take time to know more about their fund-raising activities. Yes, I'm a struggling writer who could really do with the money, but I find if I give the talk for free, the audience is more likely to pay full-price for my books after the talk.
So what do you think of my ten aspects of giving a talk? Have I missed anything? Have you any good or bad experiences of your own to share?