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Speak Up for Your Writing
by Donnell King

Return to Public Speaking · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

When Bill Karlson self-published his book, Get Top Dollar in a Job You Love!, he waited for someone to call and tell him it had hit the best-seller list. The call didn't come, even though Karlson had a popular radio show in a major market and had gotten the book into Barnes & Noble bookstores and on Amazon.

Richard Nelson Bolles, author of the well-known What Color Is Your Parachute?, guested on Karlson's show and asked him, "Are you a speaker who has a book or a writer who occasionally speaks?"

Karlson clearly put speaking first -- and then the books started to sell.

"From that point forward, when I spoke before a crowd where I could bring books, at least one out of four people attending bought a copy," he says.

Stage fright is a common reason writers don't start speaking to groups. Several studies show Americans fear public speaking more than anything else. For writers who thrive on solitude, it may be especially challenging.

Fortunately, with a few easy tips you can get started speaking to groups and reap the benefits.

Getting Gigs

If you have written a book you probably will write a press release about it. Include a sentence about your availability for speaking in the press release, and include the press release in information you send to groups that could benefit from your message.

Whether you have a book or engage in other kinds of writing, one of the clearest paths to speakerhood runs through your community's civic groups. Lion's Clubs, Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis, Sertoma, Jaycees -- these and many other groups constantly need speakers. Even medium-size towns often have several chapters of each. You need each other.

Your chamber of commerce will have listings of local clubs and contacts. You seldom find listings for these groups in the phone book, but their members are everywhere, so ask around.


Even professional speakers often appear for free at such groups when they start out. They gain both experience and exposure. Even after achieving economic success, speakers continue to occasionally speak for free for civic groups to give back to the community -- and to drum up new business. Many freebie audience members work at other places where they hire speakers.

Writers can speak to audiences for free, and still benefit economically if we can bring our books, tapes, and other materials.

Fred Brown has worked as a newspaper writer since 1963. He started speaking early in his career to represent his newspaper to all kinds of groups. In the 1980s he began writing books also, mostly regional history books. Suddenly he was in higher demand as a speaker.

"I ask if I can bring my books," he says. "I've done a brisk business that way. A lot of clubs can't pay you a dime to speak. But sometimes little groups will say, 'We don't have a budget, but you can bring your books and sell them.'"

Though Brown worries about seeming crass, he has started charging for speaking because it takes away from his writing time. "I've in recent years realized that my time is valuable," he says. "If I'm out speaking somewhere, I'm not writing."

Still, he sees writing and speaking going hand in hand. "You have to be careful about who you turn down. Some history groups can't pay, but you don't want to get them mad at you, because it generates word of mouth and publicity for you."

Writing a Speech: How Do You Do It?

You have to write for the ear. If you make a transcript from a tape of an effective speech, on paper it probably looks too simple, too choppy. As accomplished a writer as Fred Brown is (he's one of a handful of people designated as a "senior writer" in the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain), he prefers to prepare brief notes and otherwise speak conversationally.

Not that he doesn't put a lot of work into a speech. "I'm well prepared. I've gone through it and know what I want to say," Brown says. "I don't ever write a speech out anymore. It was just too stiff. People appreciate the fact that it is extemporaneous."

Choose a single theme you would like to get across. Choose examples, stories, and illustrations that clarify and support your theme. Look at people while you speak. Your presentation quickly ceases to be a speech and becomes a conversation. Speak from the heart and continue the conversation with the audience -- however one-sided the conversation might seem. Barbara Fielder, a management consultant who has published books on communication and motivation, found that she writes the way she talks, which helps both her speaking and her writing.

Trainer and consultant Ron Coxsom says, "I believe that if you can speak you can write. I do not necessarily believe the opposite."

Remember to Soft Sell

When you just hawk products, you turn off audiences -- and ultimately lose sales.

"I rarely even mentioned the book was for sale," Karlson says. "There was absolutely no strong sales pitch. People bought based on the strength of my conviction that I had something new to offer that they could also achieve by simply reading a book."

On the other hand, don't hesitate to have your books and materials available. Kellie Buchanan, who consults with both speakers and writers, says that "in the nonfiction area you are usually teaching someone to do something."

"It's important to let them know they can take the tools home with them," she explains. "It's vital to have the material on hand. Once they leave the energy of the event, the likelihood of loss of interest and buyer's remorse increases dramatically." You do them a disservice if you don't make it available when they want it.

Jump In

Most of us have paid at some point to ride a roller coaster, see a scary movie, or even go Bungee jumping. Speaking gives you the same adrenaline rush, and you can do it for free -- or even get paid for it! In any case, you already you know you have a way with words. Put it to work in speaking up for your writing.

Find Out More...

How to Become a Presenter at Prestigious Conferences - Patricia Fry

Promote Your Book Through Alternate Speaking Venues - Patricia Fry

Speaking Without Butterflies - Moira Allen

Ten Tips for a Successful Reading - Jim Hines

When Authors Engage in Public Speaking - Patricia Fry

Copyright © 2000 Donnell King
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Donnell King is a professional writer, speaker, and teacher from Knoxville, TN, where he is an associate professor of speech and journalism. He has spent 30 years writing for newspapers and magazines, and speaking on radio, from pulpits, in classrooms, and in front of community groups. His work has appeared in Boardwatch, Storytelling, Home Business Journal, BabyZone.com, Writing-World.com, and LiveWire, among other places. He is the co-author of Responsibly Spoken, and can be reached via http://donnellking.com/.


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