Writing is an endless learning quest. In search of answers to our questions about grammar, structure, point of view, and all the components of writing, we join writing groups or search the internet for answers. We also attend writing seminars.
One would think that with assembling a collection of “experts” on writing it would be highly informative. However, remember the old idiom, “Never judge a book by its cover.” That phrase is very telling when attending a writers’ conference.
My expectations are always high when I attend seminars. I admit to being one of those people who love to learn regardless of the subject matter. With my passion for writing, attending a writing conference is an inspiring event for me.
Until I go.
Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoy attending, but I often come away feeling very short-changed. I expect, especially if I have paid money, to be informed, engaged, and to a point, entertained by the speakers. I am not so naïve that I expect all speakers to be entertaining. I do expect them to be informed and organized when giving their talk.
In another article, we discussed what to expect when you search the internet for answers to your writing questions and how to judge the information given. There are considerable differences of opinion because much advice is subjective. Writing is a craft, not a science, and even the most rigid component of writing—grammar—has rules that can be bent. Our perception of what is correct when writing comes from our likes and dislikes within the general framework of the “rules.”
Which brings me back to the subject of seminar presentations. I do not expect to agree with the opinions or objectives of each presenter, nor do I expect to learn new things—a review of knowledge is as valuable as exposure to new ideas. What I do expect is that the presenter is organized, professional, and informative.
What happens in reality? Some presenters, especially those at smaller seminars, tend to be unprepared. A recent workshop I attended opened with an author who entitled her presentation as one subject. Then after a rambling introduction, off-topic and incoherent, she announced she was only discussing a portion of her announced topic. The presentation went downhill from there.
Another presentation was a frantic attempt to generate interaction with the attendees about creating characters. The presenters assembled the audience into small teams and assigned a task. The exercise was “describe a character” and their first question, “What color are his eyes?”
While the color of your character’s eyes can be an essential part of your plot, most of us are rather adept at giving a physical description of a character. We also know the pitfalls of providing that description in a tell-versus-show manner. In a group presentation, wouldn’t delving into the deeper attributes of character development be a more challenging and informative exercise? I tend to think so.
As authors, we should relish the opportunity to share our knowledge as well as promote our brand by speaking before diverse groups of people. While the opportunity to talk to fellow authors may arise more often, we should seek out presentations before non-writing-related groups to broaden our audience.
Before speaking in public, you need to prepare. Let’s look at the steps you should take to develop a presentation.
Steps to the Perfect Presentation:
Who is your audience?
- Determine the demographics of those who will be listening to your talk. If writers, how skilled are they or will there be a mix of novice and experienced writers? Is this a group of genre writers as in a mystery or romance writing group?
- When speaking before a community group, be confident that you understand the focus of the organization. Tying your message about your writing and your novels to their interests will strengthen the connection between you and your audience.
- For instance, if you are speaking to a community club with a charitable focus, mention their efforts and provide a book or two for their next fundraising event. If possible, tie your theme into their work. Keep it short and straightforward but make the connection. If it’s a group of entrepreneurs or a corporate audience, you can talk about the business side of writing or the process of writing as opposed to the nuances of creating a story.
- The goal is to give your audience what they need to hear.
What is the subject of your talk?
- Choose your subject based on your audience demographics. Your topic should be interesting to your target audience and appropriate to the event where you are speaking. Discuss your intended topic with the event planner so that you don’t replicate someone else’s presentation. You can complement another speaker but not imitate.
- You should stay within the framework that you have expertise in. If you do not write in deep-POV, don’t talk about it unless you do extensive research and understand it.
- Audiences ask questions. You do not have to have all the answers, but you should be prepared enough to know when you don’t know and say so. You can follow up with the questioner later.
- Preparation is the key to a successful presentation.
- Use the 4-1 rule—spend four hours on every one hour that you are presenting. Most of us will rarely be giving a talk that lasts more than an hour, most will have approximately twenty to forty-five minutes. Regardless, spend the hours needed to gather the information you need.
- If presenting to fellow writers, keep in mind, most know the basics. Think of your talk in the framework of what obstacles writers commonly encounter and how to overcome them. Be personal, share your issues and how you resolved them.
- Collect the data relevant to your points and then prepare your presentation.
- Think of your talk as a script.
- Your goal is to be prepared and not leave out important points.
- Start with your main points, then fill in the finer points you want to emphasize.
- Keep your content clear, concise, and focused on the subject. Provide an introduction, your message, and a conclusion.
- Include anecdotes of your own experiences and examples of your points.
- Do not attempt to do your presentation without notes. Have your script with you in whatever format you feel comfortable using. If you use multiple pages or the infamous index cards, number them in case you drop them. It happens.
- Technology is a beautiful tool to use when presenting. PowerPoint presentations add color and focus to your message. Do consider attention spans when preparing slides. Keep your slides simple and easy to read.
- A successful venture capitalist by the name of Guy Kawasaki developed a plan for doing PowerPoint in his talks called the 10/20/30 rule. “…A PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.” It is not necessary to follow this rule explicitly, but it is a great reminder to keep your slides to a minimum and be readable.
- You should use visuals as an asset to your message but not to convey the message.
- Create handouts to accompany your talk. Whether the full outline of your speech or bulleted points of the highlights, a handout can provide information and you can also brand with your website and other contact information.
- If possible, print your handouts in color for impact.
- Determine the number of people who will be present and print enough copies plus extras. Do not interrupt the flow of your talk to distribute handouts. Give the handouts to the audience at the beginning or end of the presentation.
- Remember—technology fails. Be prepared to give your talk without technical support.
- Be yourself, do not try to adopt a persona that doesn’t match your personality.
- Dress professionally. Casual meeting? Dress in business casual. Image is important.
- Speak clearly and slowly. Nervousness causes rapid speech.
- Humor is an excellent way to connect with an audience. If you have an amusing anecdote about your writing, tell it if appropriate to the topic you have chosen.
- Make eye contact with the audience.
- Move around a bit—wander the “stage” area if not tethered by a microphone. Movement will help keep the audience from focusing on one spot, and they will be more relaxed.
- Take time for questions, and answer concisely. If you don’t know the answers, say so. Do not try to cover something you do not know.
While you may have a bit of stage fright or feel uncomfortable, if you are prepared, you will do well. Remember, you are talking to people, your writing peers and those who are interested in talking to you, so enjoy the experience.
About the Author:
Deborah Ratliff is Southerner with saltwater in her veins and love of writing. A career in science and human resources provided the opportunity to write policies/procedures and training manuals, articles, and newsletters but her lifelong love of mystery novels beckoned. Deborah began writing mysteries and her first novel, Crescent City Lies will be published shortly with a second novel, One of Those Days to follow. Deborah regularly contributes articles on writing to the blog, Writers Unite! and serves as an administrator on the Facebook writing site, Writers Unite! which has 43,700 + members from around the globe.