Top Tips for Speakers

DS7_2258-2_cr_cl!_300We read a great deal about using social media to market ourselves as writers but giving talks to local groups is still an excellent way to engage with your potential readers. After all, no other marketing tool gives you a captive audience for a whole hour. Wow them, make them like you and they may even buy your books.

1.   Preparation


Treat it like a piece of writing – what is it about? Is there a logical beginning, middle and end? Don’t let it wander all over the place.

*Gear it to your audience

If you are speaking to a book group who may well have read your book in advance, what you say will be very different from the way you present much the material to a more general audience. There may even be a subtle difference between a talk to an all-male audience at a Rotary or Probus meeting to the WI or Town’s Women’s Guild; or one to your local U3A and a Young Mums group.


Bullet points are better that writing out every word. You need to look at your audience – they don’t want to see the top of your head – plus it’s all too easy to lose your place when you take your eye off the page.

It’s a good idea to highlight or underline key words.


Most groups such as WIs, U3As, Rotary and Probus group like you to speak for ¾hr with ¼hr for questions. Here timing is not so crucial, but as a cruise lecturer, my PowerPoint presentations need to be as close to 45minutes as possible. Activities on board ship follow close on one another and even if there is nothing programmed for the lounge you are in immediately after, it can be disconcerting if swathes of your audience start disappearing in the last five minutes so as not to miss the start of something else because you’ve overrun your time.


Respect your audience and dress smartly. Jackets and ties, gentlemen and ladies – avoid the navy blue suit. You will fade into the background. Wear something bright but simple – not garish and easy on the frills and jangly jewellery. On one of my cruises, I remember bemoaning the fact that I had to take 7 outfits, one for each of my talks, whereas my fellow male lecturers only needed to pack 7 different ties!


Even experienced speakers need to practice aloud beforehand. Don’t be afraid to take a pause if you need to. Take a sip of water, readjust. Try recording yourself. Videoing your talk is even better because it might reveal any personal quirks such as talking with your hands. We all do that to some extent, but it can become distracting.

2.  Before You Start Speaking

First impressions are everything so smile – stand tall – shoulders back – take a deep breath.

3.  Engage Your Audience

Let your enthusiasm for your subject shine through. Remember you are talking with friends – not instructing students for an exam. If you’re nervous looking at a sea of faces, run your gaze slowly back and forth along the back wall just above their heads. To your audience, it will seem as if you are directly looking at them.

4.  Be Yourself

Few of us are stand-up comedians and forcing jokes into your talk doesn’t do you any favours unless you can do it really well. Amusing anecdotes are fine, but keep them relevant to what you are talking about. Just keep smiling.

5.  Train Your Voice

If you are nervous, there is a great temptation to gabble. Make a conscious effort to speak a little more slowly than usual, clearly enunciating your words. Another tendency when we are nervous is for our voices to get higher and higher. These days, speakers are almost always expected to use a microphone, but still pitch your voice to the people on the back row. That doesn’t mean shouting, it means letting your voice come from your diaphragm and not getting strangled in your throat. The tone of your voice will be deeper. This does take practice. Try reading a book out loud in the privacy of your home.

6.  Book Readings

The vast majority of writers I’ve listened to, read from their books. It can be an excellent way of showing your talent. However, keep extracts short – never more than a page. Find a relatively short scene preferably one that ends with some sort of hook.

Nowadays, I tend to include far fewer readings and then only as an illustration of a point I’m making in the talk. On board ship, with a more general audience, I tend to give even less even though I may be giving as many as 7 or 8 talks.

7.  Learn from Fellow Speakers

When listening to a good speaker, it’s easy to get carried away with what they are saying (the same thing happens to me when I read a novel in an attempt to analyse it rather than simply enjoy it) but try learning their techniques. What works, what doesn’t? Is it something you can do?

8.  Market Yourself – Not Your Books

When I first started giving talks, I would put one of my bookmarks (which naturally has my website on the back) on every seat before my audience arrived. Nowadays, at the end of my talk, I invite my audience up to the table for a free bookmark where I just happen to have a few copies of my books (not a pile – you can have more in the car) which I sell at discounted prices. Never do a hard sell.

9.  A Final Point

Enjoy. Love what you are talking about. Keep smiling.  Next month I will be giving you my top tips for making your PowerPoint presentation the best it can be.

Do you have any top tips to pass on? What works for you?

2 thoughts on “Top Tips for Speakers

  1. Thank you for the helpful set of tips, Judith. I know you’re a much appreciated speaker, so these are well worth having!
    One other thing I do is suggest a competition, as WIs often enjoy this. e.g. one was to write an opening line for a story, when I was talking about my books. Another was for “your top tip on how to thrive as we age” for my talk on that subject. Then I give one of my books as a prize.

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