Books talks can be fantastic or an emotionally traumatising experience for writers. You however control more of the elements than you think and a few changes can make a huge difference. Since I wrote my wee book I have done way too may events, especially in light of the fact I hate public speaking. Ironic I know. I learned a lot the hard way borrowing wisdom from folks a lot smarter than I. Here are the top tips that will help you make sure you rock your next book talk:
1. Change The Setup
How the room is set up will impact your talk. Don’t assume the organiser will know the best way to do this. Often it’s left to an internal person who will do it the same way they always have which might not be the best for you. Get there early just in case. 30 minutes prior to a talk I can usually be found moving chairs around. Ideally you want no places to hide between you in the audience, minimum exit points and the smaller the aisle gaps the better as shown in the first image below. For a straight talk (not workshop) you want people all facing you, ideally tightly packed together with no tables. Tables are bad, tables with table cloths are worse. If a kid can hide under it so can a smart phone. Tightly packed gives the highest probability of laughter spreading. It also means less people will get up before the end.
2. Sell Books Before, Not After.
Even if the event has no budget to pay you try everything you can to get them to buy some number (any number!) of your books. This is often a tax write off for them and makes your chances of a successful talk A LOT HIGHER. If done right attendance will be higher, they will listen more, be on laptops and phones less, come to you at the end rather than running away, it will save you seeming self promotional or salesy and folks will stay until the end.
3. Give Limited Books Out Last.
This way people stay until the end and focus on your words. If you give them out prior as many speakers and organisers do, you have put distraction in their hands. You speak, they read. Not ideal. Only make a limited amount available and make sure this is communicated in any event listings and on the day. I often do the first 50 people.
4. If You Build A Line They Will Come.
Have volunteers, event organisers, anybody but you ideally have the first 50 people sign in as they come. This creates line up outside your event and just like for nightclubs or restaurants a sense of anticipation builds as people wait and think well this must be good if people are lining up. This helps massively when your talk is competing with other talks on at the same time as part of the same event. Most people at conferences have no idea what event is on next and are wandering the corridors just happy to be away from their desk for the day. A line outside yours will draw them in.
5. Give Them The Missing Link.
Provide a link with further info or better yet a summary of your talk points. This should be a resource listing any books you mention, examples, cases, further reading etc. Tell them within the first few minutes (but not right at the start) that there is no need to take notes and they can put devices and laptops away and just listen if they like. Tell them you have a link that summarises your main points and provides additional resources which you will provide at the end. This gives them no excuse to be using their devices and allows them to just listen to you.
6. Right Time, Right Link.
Put this link on the same slide as a picture of your book,(see example below) share it first towards the end (not at the end but before Q&A-otherwise they will ask for it during Q&A), and second at the very end after you have taken your applause (hopefully!). When you show it first, encourage attendees to take a photo of it. This is a chance for an easy laugh as when they take out their phones you get in front of your image and strike your best goofy pose. Easy social content for you, easy reminder for them to find and hopefully buy, action, recommend or review your book.
Ideally this link (after giving the content you promised) also offers an email capture for some additional content they will want. I use this 80 tips free guide. That way you start to build an email list of folks who have come to your talks and are interested in your content. Not everyone will react in time to get the link so at the end make sure its the last slide again but this time with a thank you message, and only show after you say thank you an finish talking. No need to announce it.
7. Get The Organiser An Easy Applause.
Tell them thanks to (their company, sponsor, boss, event organiser/whoever it is) that the first 50 of you who signed up already get a signed copy of your book at the end. This confirms they need to stay to the end. At this point people who arrived later usually feel they are missed out on something cool, which they now want and are pretty likely to pay for if you do a good job.
8. Give Them Pre Sign.
Sign all these book copies in advance, tell them they are already signed so that they can just grab and go. Many will see a line, want the book still but really do have to go and don’t have time to talk to you. Everyone wants a book that has been signed by the author, not everyone wants to ask for you to sign it or wait for you to do so. Tell them you are happy to personalise any comments towards the end of the talk.
9. Books Up Front.
Make sure the books are up the front of the room, near you and the stage. Ideally just offside. That way at the end all traffic comes your way. You are more likely to interact with people and secure further bookings. Try and get the same volunteer to check off the names as often folks who missed the announcement will try and take copies thinking they are free for all. This is good for social photos also, you surrounded by people or a line of folks waiting to get their books personalised. These pictures can be used on your site or promotional material and help organisers hire you.
10. Check Books. Check Social
If the event producer has included a book signing as part of your event with free books make sure they post it on their social channels just before it’s going to take place using the event hashtags. Make sure also your books have arrived and are there and ready to go. Often rushed last minute on the day organisers forget to post about it and forget to bring or set up the books. Make it your business.
11. Don’t Let The Burger Beat You
What’s more interesting, me or that a big juicy burger or enticing salad? Food wins every-time. Don’t speak while folks are eating if you can at all avoid it. Not even the world’s best speakers can compete with fine food. Some sick individual somewhere decided Lunch and Learn talks are a good idea. They are not. Avoid them if you can. Add a clause like this to any agreement:
Dining & Service: You agree to close any open bar service, buffet stations, silent auction tables, or other self-service locations within the same room as the performance venue. Beverage service by wait staff at each table is permitted, however food should not be served during the event unless previously agreed.
12. Show Your Best.
If the organiser wants to record the session add a clause to any agreement that allows you to review and provide editing notes on the video and also to have final approval on publishing it. Seldom do organisers edit out any audio visual mishaps or challenges and this is your chance to make them go away. Often in cases laughter will come from images or content in your slides. You show it, the audience laughs, it often does not end up shown in this same sequence in the video. It needs to be for an online audience to get the joke also.
Add a clause like this to any agreement: “subject to review and written approval for all proposed content of the speaker by the speaker prior to any public distribution”.
13. Don’t Stand Between Them And Their Inbox.
The time of day you agree to speak at has an effect on how well it will go. After doing way to many of these there is no comparison between a 9am talk and a 4pm talk. Late afternoon, but not too late allows folks to have made enough progress at cleaning out their email inbox during the day to relax, leave devices down, focus and laugh a bit. If you are on early am you stand between them and their rapidly accumulating list of action items. Let them get some action first.
14. Find Out What Goes Before
Who will you be speaking before or after you, or competing with you for attention on a packed event schedule? This will have an impact on your talk. If you are on at 9am on the 2nd day of a conference after a big party the first night you will not get as many people as you could that first day. It’s always nice to avoid the after lunch food coma spot and you will usually get more laughs towards the evening than the morning. Different topics vary slightly. For example if I do a workshop on public speaking at the start of a conference it will be poorly attended. If I do the same workshop towards the end of a conference, after attendees have been envisaging themselves on stage for a couple of days it will be packed. Know when your topic works best. One year I spoke at Web Summit Conference as part of a panel and the room was jam packed with huge lines waiting to get in. Turns out bestselling writer Dan Brown was on after us. If you know that in advance you would be more likely to try and get video or pictures of you speaking to a full house. Check and triple check the schedule.
15. Give It For 5 or 500.
You just never know who is there. I did my book launch at the Nasdaq Centre in San Francisco to 250 people. The next day I spoke at a library to 3 people. One of them was a homeless man who came in for some much needed warmth, one was a kid who’s mother had lured him in using free cookies left out by the library…for me. It’s often deflating when you walk in to the event and don’t exactly find the crowd of cheering fans you had imagined when your mind wandered to your happy place but you really never know who will be there. The second talk I ever did had 11 people there. One was a reporter for Inc, wrote this article on the talk, which lead to this featured article and a position as a contributor writing for INC and all these articles. This ultimately helped land me a publishing deal. Give it your all no matter how many.
16. Run From Podiums.
Bring your own clicker and don’t ever present from behind a podium. This frees you up to move about. Your audience needs to see you to trust you and it helps you combat any disruptions by simply waking nearer the offender.
17. Read Sparingly.
Don’t just read from your book. Even when organsiers ask you to do a book reading don’t just read from your book. If you do this keep it short (sections less than 2 minutes ideally). It’s hard to holds folks attention when you’re not looking at them. Read a few lines and tell them the story behind your words. Make sure the selections you’re reading have: A) relevance to the topic/theme of the book reading, B) grip the listener and engage them quickly, C) have good stories you can tell to provide background or additional context, D) all of the above.
18. You’re The Waterboy
Bring a couple of bottles of water with you. Event organsiers will not always have them and you will get thirsty. Often they will just have a large jug and a glass which is not as easy to manage with nervous hands as a bottle. I usually bring three and set them side by side which is also a great way to hide a few notes from the audience to help jog your memory if you need it.
19. Time Your Talk.
Don’t rely on the organiser to time your talk or let you know when it’s time to wrap up. They often forget or the AV team or slow to start the clock. Download and use this free app and hide it behind your water bottles.
20. Help Your Host Help You.
Often with nerves high an event host will try some impromptu humor, unintentionally at your expense or say something unplanned that messes up your opening introduction. To get off to the best possible start supply the host with an introduction in advance of the event and also on the day of the event by writing or typing it out clearly on a small easy to hold card. Your introduction should be short, ideally say three things about you and only say your name once and very last. Eg, ladies and gentlemen our next speaker is the founder of some wacky startup, an award-winning writer, and occasional low quality Elvis impersonator. Please give a huge welcome for “your name here”. Saying your name last and only mentioning it at this point builds anticipation and gives the audience their queue to applaud. Your talk starts with your introduction, before you take the stage, not when you take the stage.
21. Harvest The Positive..And Post It.
After the event copy and paste links of tweets about your talk and ideally showcase these on your website like I have done here to show future bookers and event organisers that audiences enjoy your talks. I’m always surprised how few speakers do this and it helps a lot with more bookings.
Applying even a few of these tips will help you rock your next book talk and make it way more fantastic, and way less emotionally traumatising!