How To Structure An Author Talk – You Can’t Preach From A Garret
The days of writing in a garret and passing on your words, never to look a reader in face, are done. Overdone. Well done. They may quite possibly be charred beyond recognition and masquerading as a black hole. Or charcoal. In fact if you’re a writer, and you get a stocking full of charcoal for Christmas, then they are your old writing garret days. Sorry.
Because the fact of the matter is, if you want to make it as a writer, and I mean really make it as a writer, you have to be able to learn to connect with people. And not just for the warm and fuzzies and building your tribe. Yes that’s part of it, but that’s not the main reason. We can’t eat warm and fuzzies. We can’t pay our bills with good will and pats on the back. Sure it builds the confidence but my preference is not to get to the point where I have to eat paper to feel full.
Many authors don’t realise this, but the money an author gets for speaking for an hour, or giving a workshop, or appearing at a festival, is what sustains full time writers in their careers. Even a well know and successful indie author like Joanna Penn admits that her speaking gigs and courses (which she presents) are a large source of her income. It’s here that we come to a problem. Because if you suck at public speaking, those gigs are going to be as likely as flying dolphins with jetpacks. Even if you are a confident and mildly amusing person, if you don’t know how to do it right, if you don’t know how to flip those switches like a Japanese game show host, if you don’t know how to reach all types of people, chances are you are only going to connect with 5% of the room. If you don’t know which 5%, they’ll be the ones that don’t have that glazed look in their eyes that says they’ve been watching reality TV for too long.
I’ve been to a lot of bad presentations; I think I’ve killed at least half a dozen authors in slasher daydreams in my head, and I decided that that wasn’t going to be me. So last year I decided to take a three day course in the art of public speaking from a wonderful woman called Carren Smith. Carren is an amazing public speaker, a beautiful woman, and an even more amazing human being, coming all the way from surviving the Bali bombings to where she is today. Before that weekend I would never have known the art of opening your mouth and making sounds could be so calculated but at the same time, so simple. I’d been doing it all wrong. If you get the chance to attend one of her seminars, you could not go wrong.
If you took a look at my last blog post you would have seen my presentation from that weekend in its entirety. And here today, I’m going to break down the mechanics of that twelve minute presentation for you, so that you too can learn how to structure and land those speaking gigs that allow you to start carving a writing career that makes you money, rather than sucks you dry. In fact this structure works so well I’ve started using it for my blog post writing as well. Your talk can be on a topic or theme from your book, it can be about how you write and teaching others to be creative. It doesn’t matter what you want to get across, we’ll have you ripping up the stage like a bad ass entertainer in no time. So let’s get too it!
There Are Four Different Types Of People
No I don’t mean fat, thin, tall and dwarf. I don’t even mean greedy, kind, mathematical or good a selfies. It would be more accurate to say there are four different types of learning styles. If you cover all of the different ways people learn in one presentation, then you are more likely to reach more people and suddenly you’re seeing your 5% attention rate jump up to over 50%. The four learning styles include:
- The Why People: They want to know why they should give a damn, about you, about your book, about the life, the universe and everything. They are the ones with the short attention spans, they are the ones you have to grab first before they start throwing spit balls at the other attendees.
- The What People: What is this thing/object/topic that you insist on talking about. If they know what it is, they can classify it and are happy to move on.
- The How People: How do you do that thing you do? No really, exactly how is it done, how can they replicate that, how can they learn from all your time wasting mistakes and make a clear path for themselves. These types of learners need a structure, a yellow brick road they can skip down with a childhood hallucination on each arm.
- The Do It People: Cool, cool, sweet, sweet, now can I touch it please??? Pretty please?? I need to play with it. I know that came out wrong, but you really need to let me do the thing you were talking about now, please. These people aren’t happy unless they are putting something into action. They’ll listen to all the talk, just as long as you give them something to tinker with at the end.
You need to address each one of these learning styles in each section of your presentation. ‘How many sections should I have?’ you ask. Well, there should be Four:
This is where you hook in all your learning styles in one fowl swoop. This section should never be over a minute and a half, if you were doing a three minute video you should have this baby wrapped up in thirty seconds. It needs to be sharp, punchy, and have all the kick of a black belt. You should see all these elements in the video below:
- Topic: What is this whole presentation about? People need to know WHY they should even bother listening to a minute more. Where is this hour going? When can I have tea?
- Audience: Who will this presentation help? Who is it aimed at? The worst thing you can do as a presenter to your audience is to let them get to the end of the presentation none the wiser about whether or not you were speaking to them or the person behind them. They need to know, you know, who you’re talking to. Basically this is the, ‘Are we on the same page’ test.
- What Keeps Them Up In The Night: What is it that has them jerking awake in their bed and nibbling at their fingers until they are bloody raw stumps? This needs to be emotional and trigger their imagination and inner feelings. Dramatic faces are recommended.
- What in it for them: By the end of this presentation, after they’ve put off their smoko, and rested their Facebook thumbs, and decided to spend their day inside with someone they’ve never met but kind of looks like their smelly neighbour, what will they have? What knowledge or process or fun gift pack will they come away with?
The audience needs to know they are in safe hands and that you are in fact a human who feels human-type things and has had the same or worse shit happened to you. This is the ‘Are you a robot/crackpot/narcissist/Animal/mineral/vegetable’ test. If they feel like they know you, if they feel they have a connection with you, then they are more likely to trust that you will lead them into the land of good writing and entertainment. This section has a more simple structure than the first. You have to take them on a rollercoaster ride: start high, go low, end high. You’re low doesn’t have to be death or destruction, depression or homicidal tendencies; it just has to be a point in your journey where you could have give up but didn’t and broke through. Normally it is the tipping point, the pivotal moment where you said enough is enough. It is always important that you end on a high note. Any presentation that starts off all doom and gloom with no way out is going to get you lynched mobbed at the end, not a standing ovation. This section should take up about 20% of your presentation time. See how I handle it here:
Alright, I’m interested in what you’re saying, and now I trust you, please guide me oh messiah to the promised land! Fifty percent of your presentation happens right here, right now. Depending on the length of your presentation you should have either 3, 5 or 7 steps. Odd numbers have been psychologically proven to stick in the head more (says Dr Craven…) and as a result odd numbers are used often in marketing. But add too many steps at your peril; you don’t want your audience getting overwhelmed and felling like you’re trying to ram a university degree down their gullet. You need to count down each step starting with the least important and working up to the most insightful-piece-of-information-that-has-ever-graced-the-world-stage! Aherm.
Anyway, as you may have guessed, this section isn’t just for the how-to learners, you need to hook in each learning type into each of your steps. So for each step you’re going to have to explain why it is important, define what it is you are referring to and describe it, and tell people how they can achieve their own Step 3/2/1 and end with one thing they can do when they get home (or do in the workshop).
Here is where you get people to take action, this is for the DO IT types, the active people who have probably been shifting in their seats like a child who really needs to pee but has been told to stay put. Whether you direct them to do a task, buy your book, or do further learning with you, this is the action point and it should involve at least a bit of body movement and have some sort of deadline attached. Nothing gets the action going like a deadline.
This part of the presentation I didn’t include in my original upload in the last blog post, mainly because I made the webinar up. It was an exercise at the time I recorded it and it seemed silly to inspire people only to send them to an event that didn’t actually exist. It might exist one day if enough people ask, but as of this moment it is as imaginary as my six pack. In this excerpt you’ll find a similar pattern to the other sections, I go into why the watchers should attend the webinar, what the webinar was for, how they could book into it and the urged them to bloody well do it!
The Number One Rule Of Presenting??
No PowerPoint. PowerPoint is like a growth, a crutch, a carpet pulled out from underneath your feet. When you use PowerPoint treat it like a photo frame, no words, pictures only. PowerPoint puts people into a passive state of learning. You want them in an active state, where they are more awake and retain more of the word-sounds that come out of your mouth. If you must, give them a sheet at the end that has all the information they need.
So you know why learning to give a proper author talk is important, what an author does with one, and how to structure and present one. So what are you waiting for? Develop a ten minute talk for your book and DO IT!!!