On Saturday, I was at a local library speaking to a book club about writing. Speaking in public isn't a major problem for me. I was a teacher for many years and am used to talking to groups. But I know there are some who dread having to address others.
What I've found helpful.
1. Have an idea of your audience. Since the person who invited me to speak is an aspiring writer, it was quite possible that there would be both readers and writers in the group, even though it was a book club. If you think you'll have a mixed group, try to have some brief words to cover both contingencies. I have two basic "programs" – one geared to readers, and one geared to aspiring writers. Neither is particularly in depth, but they each provide talking points. Readers made up the majority of my audience, but I talked about my 'beginning writer' handout as well, explaining that as readers, they might not be aware of what's 'behind the scenes' on the page, but they might like to watch for some of these points as they read.
2. Get there early so you know what kind of space they've allotted for you. Depending on the size of the group, you may be seated at the front of rows of chairs, or they may have a podium set up. Or a microphone. If that's the case, you'll have to remember to speak into it so your voice doesn't fade in and out. Also, greet people as they arrive. Don't hide until you're introduced. The idea is to be a "real" person, not someone who's too important to mingle.
3. Have handouts. I had bookmarks, business cards, a sheet of paper with a brief bio and covers of all my books, and CHOCOLATE.
4. Start with an informal introductory chat. I ask the audience how many are readers, how many are writers, and adjust how much time I'm going to spend on my reader vs my writer points. From there, I generally give my "how I became a writer by mistake" story, which is informal and (at least I hope) engages the audience.
5. If you're going to read something (and I rarely, if ever, read from my books, but I do have my 2 character "job interviews" with Ryan & Frankie that I will present to a writer's group) there are a few things to do.
a) Print it in a LARGE font so you can read it easily and not lose your place. You'll want to be able to make frequent eye contact with members of the audience.
b) PRACTICE. No matter how dumb you think you sound, read it aloud and see where you stumble, or where you need to pause for breath. When we write, we don't really write it with reading aloud in mind. Also, read it for time, so you know how long you expect your audience to listen without any interaction. And, if you're familiar with the piece, you'll be able to make that eye contact more often. Nothing puts an audience to sleep faster than someone reading without engaging them.
c) Go slower than you think you need to. You've read it and heard it before—and by now, probably a LOT since you've been practicing. Don't rush through it. Ears don't work the same way as eye.
6. Allow lots of time for questions. And don't be afraid to use examples from your own books (you ARE speaking to help people learn who you are, and just maybe, try one of your books, right?) But don't use only your own work. Use other examples from authors as well. Caveat: Try not to let one person dominate the Q&A, especially if they're clearly looking for advice that's personal to them. You might suggest that they speak to you after your talk.
7. HAVE FUN.
Tomorrow, my guest is Ellis Vidler. She's going to be writing about Aiming For The Heart. Plus, she's got a giveaway. Plan to be here.