Sunday, May 13, 2012

Tips for Speaking and Presenting at Conferences

by Vivian Zabel 

     So you want to be speaker or presenter or hold a workshop at a writing conference or book festival. Who wouldn't like to be considered expert enough to be invited to share his/her knowledge with other writers? If any of us said otherwise, we might grow extra long noses.

     I've received invitations and most I have accepted, but I'm not able to tell people how to received those invitations. I can only share some tips to help you prepare to be successful once that invitation arrives.

 1.  Know your material inside out, upside down, and from every direction.You must be prepared mentally/intellectually. If you don't know your subject matter completely, you'll not be able to share what is needed.

 2.  Know how to use your language orally, to use it and pronounce it correctly. No, you don't have to speak in stiff formal English, but you need to speak correctly without appearing unintelligent. Yes, I hear news reporters, sports commentators, and other public people slaughter grammar; however, to those who know their language, people who use incorrect language do NOT sound smart. Neither do people who incorrectly pronounce words.
       A few examples I hear too regularly that cause my nerves to hear fingernails on a chalk board include the following:
       The football team, they want to finish this year here on top. (two big no, noes: The football team wants to finish this year on top.)
        The reason why is hidden from you and I. (one major boo-boo: I is a subject form, not an object form, can't be used correctly after a preposition such as for or between. The reason why is hidden from you and me.)
         He did good on his exam. (good what? He did a good job, or he did well.)
         His athleticism helps him win. (Yes, that's becoming so used by sports people that we've almost become use to it, but actually, athletic ability is correct.)
         The best fishing spot is in the bend of the crick (creek).
         The pitcher (picture) on the wall was taken by my mother.

     Those are just a few examples of problems in language that would weaken your presentation.

 3.  Once you receive an invitation, prepare your material so that it is organized and interesting. If you're using handouts, be sure they add to your presentation and help the audience better understand your message.

 4.  Practice giving your presentation. Know it well enough that you can deliver it with a few notes or an outline. I have gotten to where I have to refer only a few times to any notes. The photo above caught me doing so. This photo shows Jacque Graham practicing her presentation at the North East Texas Writers Organization conference.  

 5.  Present your material to your audience, allowing them to fee a connection to you as a person. I always have a few humorous comments, even if a joke on myself.

     Yes, some people can talk for as long a time as allowed about subject they know about. I happen to be one of those people, but it is the result of studying, teaching, and practicing speech and debate and a multitude of subjects completely. Also being able to do so is a result of living long enough to gain a storehouse of information. Still, I would not go into a presentation, speech, or workshop unprepared. My audience deserves the best I can give them.

 6.  A final note, look professional. You only have one chance to make a good first impression. No, no one has to buy an expensive wardrobe to look clean, neat, and professional. However, a t-shirt and jeans isn't the way to stand in front of a group and appear prepared. I have four outfits that I use, and sometimes interchange pieces. I also use blue as my trade mark. I may have a black top and slacks with a blue jacket over the combination, or a navy blue three-piece suit. I wear dress shoes without whatever outfit I wear. I'm not a slim, trim person who looks good no matter what she wears, but even if I were, I'd dress professionally.

     I will have held four workshops, taken a host of pitches from writers, and given at least two speeches before 2012 comes to a close. One workshop will be in Anchorage, Alaska. I'm not afraid to let people know that I'm an expert in a few areas. I wrote articles that were published. I visited schools and libraries and gave talks. Some way, my name became known. Once I do a speech, presentation, or workshop, I want participants to feel they gained something from the experience. So should you. Each success builds your reputation.

     Therefore, begin to prepare before you are invited. With work, any of us can succeed.


  1. Dear Vivian,
    Thank you for sharing your expertise about speaking and presenting at conferences. You gave us many great things to remember to be successful.
    Joan Y. Edwards

  2. Joan, I'm sharing what I taught about speaking and debate competition adapted for writers, illustrators, or editors.

  3. Vivian, Great tips. Thanks! I haven't presented in person yet, but am hoping to get the chance one of these days.

    Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing

  4. Vivian, such a good reminder that we need to upgrade our spoken language as well as our appearance. I love the line about the audience deserving our best. It's a gift to have someone's undivided attention; many things compete for it.

    Even before a book is published, I'd encourage writers to seek out speaking opportunities. I sold a poem to Highlights magazine and used that as a springboard to speak in local classrooms for free. The poem hasn't been published yet, but everyone in town knows I'm a writer. And it was fun!

  5. Starting locally for free is the foundation for building a speaking resume. I did that for years before more, uh, major speaking/workshop opportunities arose.

    Of course I spoke and did presentations and workshops for nearly free (very low pay) for 30 years -- as a teacher.

  6. God bless the teachers! Where would we be without those brave souls!