Building Your Public Presentation Skills

The cloistered life of a writer can take a toll on your social skills. As an author, we all spend a lot of time in our own heads as opposed to interacting with other people. Social media doesn’t count. I mean the kind of people you actually might have to go outside your house to encounter. Real people—like the ones you see on television. The ones on television don’t count either.

Sooner or later, you will need those social skills because at some point, you will be asked to do a presentation of some sort. Perhaps you will be asked to speak before a book club, or at a library function, or (as in my case) to ask people in the grocery store if they’d like to try a sample of today’s cheese. Maybe you labor under the illusion that your social skills are still intact. After all, you can still (theoretically) ride a bicycle.  Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to help assess whether you might need a little brushing up before an appearance:

1. Do you ever find yourself tongue-tied when a grocery clerk asks you, “How’s it going?”

2. Have you ever experienced a panic attack if someone asks you the time of day?

3. The last time you went outside your home, did you find all that bright light annoying?

4. Does the absence of robust litter box aroma make you think there is something wrong with the air outside?

If your answer to any of these questions was yes, or you are currently hiding under your desk, you will want to work on feeling more comfortable around people. The good news is that it is not really so hard as it might seem. After all, before you became a writer, you used to be a person. There are bound to be a few residual skills upon which you can build.

First, let’s dispense with some long held and cherished myths. Foremost among these is that the way to feel more relaxed and comfortable when speaking to a crowd of people is to imagine them naked. Now seriously, what kind of person feels more relaxed in a room full of naked people?

Another piece of advice you occasionally worry about is to dress accordingly with the venue. Screw that. If you’re an indie author, you probably have a wardrobe choice between the clean flannel shirt and the dirty flannel shirt. You are the star attraction. People should be dressing like you, not the other way around.

Enthusiastic crowd after a reading of BAD BOOK by Brooks, Hise, and Mader

There are only two things you need to remember about yourself: First, whatever books you have written are mere slivers of your imagination, a mere fraction of the eloquence and intellectual acumen brimming below your sad crusty disheveled outward appearance; and second, make sure your pants are zipped up before taking the stage.

The key to putting yourself at ease before a crowd is to remember they did not write a book and you did. That makes you better than them. Sure, some of them have better clothing, clearly have some folding cash and many may look like they even bathe regularly, but they are there to see you. Because YOU are an author, dammit! So, take charge. Don’t just sit there and await their judgment. Challenge them. Open with a question like, “How many people here have read my book, A Summer at Hampfordshire?”

If no hands go up, shake your head disapprovingly, then start asking questions: “You there! What do you suppose is the signal event in the life of a one-legged Portuguese sailor who learns to paint only to ultimately face the irreversible and gradual loss of his vision when he finds his wife has run away with his monkey?”

Alternately, if one or two hands do go up, ask a few very vague or overly specific questions. These might be something like, “How would you characterize the overarching themes of the book?” or “What did you think of Romero wearing the red necktie to Lorenzo’s funeral?” This kind of question can really provoke discussion, especially if there was no such scene in your book. Either way, the point is, you shouldn’t have to do all the work. The key is to make the presentation interactive.

Be aware that things do not always go according to plan. See here and here for some rather frightful mishaps, but remember neither of these authors were defenestrated. Nonetheless, this is why my personal motto is: all plans are an irresistible invitation to failure. The sooner you get to the point where you realize you are the show, the better you’ll feel about it. There won’t be bothersome checklists to go through, no speeches to memorize or stacks of books to inadvertently leave behind. It is all you.

Once you realize you are large and in charge, you will find your confidence growing and will actually look forward to additional opportunities to show off your presentation skills.

Author: Stephen Hise

Stephen Hise is the Evil Mastermind and founder of Indies Unlimited. Hise is an independent author and an avid supporter of the indie author movement. Learn more about Stephen at his website or his Amazon author page.

15 thoughts on “Building Your Public Presentation Skills”

  1. Great tips and humorously done. If only I had those shyness problems. I'm the geek girl who is the anomaly, the one you physically have to remove the microphone from to get her off the stage. Give me a spotlight and I shine. And then, when I don't shut up, grab the hook!

  2. Hilarious – thanks!

    Another good one is to attack the location: start by asking the people how they live there when it's so hot/cold/rainy/arid. That'll get them on your side in no time


  3. Or this tactic I once witnessed: Author, sporting untucked, somewhat clean flannel shirt and Larry Fine hair, slouches into building, slumps into seat on stage, blinks like he's coming off a three-day drunk, and says, "Whaddya want to know?" Damn. If I'd done that last weekend, maybe nobody would have noticed I forgot my books!

  4. Another great one, Stephen. I am one of those people who also can't get up in front of people and talk so I see myself exactly as you gave described throughout this post, lol. Too funny!

  5. That gave me a chuckle. Sometimes I tell myself "If you can create characters, you can pretend to be one if necessary."

    Public speaking can be scary, even if it's one on one.

  6. Defenestrated! Thank you, I've been waiting years to see that word in print again. I think I'm going to start a fan club for under appreciated words 😀

  7. I loved this because it made me laugh. The first public presentation I had to do – way back in 1991, at the launch of my first book – gave me a taste for it.

    Being an ex-lecturer and teacher puts me in a good spot for addressing recalcitrant audiences. Recalcitrant? (Yes, I do know what defenestrated means, too).

    Now, I have no trouble, but it never pays to become blase about speaking to an audience you respect. I always write 'lines' and practise.

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