Once upon a time, the job description for a writer was fairly straightforward: you sat down and wrote. After that, you worked with an editor and revised your work through to publication.
Now, the requirements of the job are somewhat different, particularly if you are a writer for young people. It’s not enough just to do the writing – you have to be able to talk about it. Over my writing career I’ve presented to thousands of people, young and old, all over Australia. I’ve talked to crowds of hundreds of people. I’ve run intensive writing workshops. I’ve been a writer-in-residence. I’ve been on panels, I’ve chaired debates, I’ve even done the MC thing and hosted glittering occasions. So far this year, I’ve spent nearly forty days away from my desk doing that other part of the job, at schools, libraries and festivals. In the beginning, I was uncertain about this part of the job, but I’ve grown to enjoy it. I’ve learned about presenting and honed my skills by the time honoured method of trial and error followed by reflection. I thought I’d share a few things that work for me.
- Introduce yourself. Part of the success of your presentation hinges on your credibility, so you need to establish this straight away. Even if you get an introduction, it’s worth spending a bit of time expanding on it, establishing why the audience should bother listening to you. You have some expertise, but tell the audience what it is!
- Outline the presentation. This is a simple way of connecting with the audience. Let them know, broadly, what you’re going to cover. Let them know that there will be time for questions at end – or that you’re happy to take questions along the way. Tell them at the beginning that you’re going to cover the Top 5 Ways to Write a Detective Novel (and then tick them off along the way). Tell them that you’ll spend time on the Life of a Writer, then you’ll read an excerpt from your latest book, and at the end you’ll show them something from your Work in Progress. These signposts help your audience’s expectations, and get them ready for your presentation.
- Engage. Easier said than done, of course, but try to connect with the audience near the beginning of your talk. Some suggestions: tell a short anecdote about your school days or your reading; tell how you got to the venue (a funny thing happened to me on the way …); ask a leading question that most of them will answer in the affirmative (‘How many of you saw [insert name of latest popular movie here]?); thank them for having you as a speaker – because it’s important market research for you …
- Keep an eye on the audience. Try to judge from their expressions and posture how your talk is going. Speed it up, if necessary. Slow down and explain more if they’re looking puzzled.
- Audio visual is helpful, but not to be relied on. No matter how well you’ve prepared your PowerPoint or images of book covers, there’s no guarantee it will work on the equipment at whatever venue you’ve arrive at. I have multimedia presentations but I use them very judiciously, usually at places I’ve been before. If I take them to an untried venue, I arrive early and I have a complete alternative, low-tech presentation ready to go, just in case.
- Mention your website at the end, and it can be worth mentioning if you have a Facebook and Twitter presence.
- As you finish thank the audience and repeat your name. It never hurts.
I enjoy the talking side of the writing job. It’s refreshing, challenging and it gives me a chance to meet my audience face to face – or my potential audience, anyway.