We’ve all been told that building our author platform can help us sell more books and that speaking in public, such as at conference or in front of book clubs, is a great way to do that. But—are you good speaker material? By “good speaker material” I mean, are you likely to be asked back to speak again, or, after your appearance will you be crossed off inadvertently from the “Speakers to Contact Again” list? Let’s find out:
1) A good speaker can “wing it” when necessary. Even in the very best of facilities, equipment failures can and will happen. Projectors not working or internet connections going down will throw some speakers into a panic, or worse, a hissy fit. Utilizing these tools can sometimes make a good talk even better, but if you can’t say what needs to be said by using a handout or a white board, you’re relying too much on the bells and whistles of modern technology. Slides and websites should only enhance your talk, but not be so crucial that you can’t do without them. And you don’t want to spend the first ten minutes of your allotted time staring at your audience while a harassed volunteer or conference organizer runs frantically around looking for a technician or an explanation as to why things are not functioning properly. Try to get to your room ten minutes early if possible to check if the equipment you need is there and is functioning. Check that you have all the adapters and whatever else you need to use said equipment. If the equipment doesn’t work and can’t be fixed in under five minutes, go to Plan B ─ printed handouts and/or the black or white board, if available. The best speakers ─ the ones who get asked back—don’t roll their eyes in exasperation or whine about equipment failures, they smile graciously and get on with it.
2) A good speaker doesn’t blame her audience if her talk is not successful. I’ll never forget a note I received from a disgruntled speaker at one of my conferences, a doctor who sent feedback that she was upset that “the audience of people attending the conference represented a very anti-professional/anti-doctor attitude.” Imagine complaining about your audience for such a reason? It actually made me chuckle and needless to say, I never responded to the complaint. For the reason that it’s the speaker’s task to keep her audience engaged. If that’s not happening, she needs to figure out why and adjust her talk accordingly. Remember that people attending a conference or a book club event have paid an admission price to be there. That means they want to be there and want to hear what you have to say. If you’ve bored them, it’s the fault of your presentation, not the fault of your listener.
3) A good speaker doesn’t despair if her talks have low attendance, but treats every attendee like visiting royalty. True story: a day before one of my first book events, which happened to be at least an hour and a half’s drive each way from my home, the bookshop owner phoned me apologetically, “Do you realize we booked this event for the day before Easter? I didn’t think of it and I’m so afraid the attendance is going to be too low for you to come all this way. I’ll understand if you want to reschedule.” I asked him if he’d had any interest from his clientele at all and when he said that two people had told him they planned to attend, my reply was that if those people showed up the next day, they’d be mightily miffed that they’d carved out time in their weekend for something that was cancelled solely on the possibility of low attendance. So here’s what happened: We went ahead with the event. Six people showed up, including the two who’d said they would. They listened to me read from Harlot’s Sauce, got to taste the salsa puttenesca I’d made for the event and drink some wine. Just six. But, lo and behold—those six people bought 45 books. Why? Three of those attendees where there to preview the book for their book clubs. The other three were there solely for the reading and the free food, but two of those attendees bought a copy of the book apiece anyway, though they told me they hadn’t intended to do so when they first walked in. Even one person sitting in your audience is a potential new reader or follower or champion of your product/book/brand. They’ve granted you the privilege of giving you time out of their lives, lives which are just as important to them as your life and your time are important to you, to hear what you have to say. So treat them as though you feel privileged that they took that time. Be warm, be kind, be engaging. They are there to see you, though they might not even know you. Isn’t that a nice thing to know?
4) A good speaker is not an elitist. Unless your work is as well known as Amy Tan’s or Isabel Allende’s, you are a midlist or newbie author. To go from newbie to midlist to frontlist, you need more book sales. And to get more book sales, you need a bigger platform. And to get a bigger platform, you need to put yourself in front of as many new potential readers as possible. This same holds true for whatever industry you’re in, whatever brand you’re trying to build. At any given time there are millions of people looking for a speaking engagement in their particular field and so, if you are chosen to speak, you should feel thankful, not entitled. A conference’s reputation is built on the quality of its speakers. Part of being a good speaker is making yourself available, as much as reasonably possible, to conference attendees. Conference attendees are there to hear and see you, ask you questions, and have paid to do so.
What I noticed about the last conference I organized, The Women’s PowerStrategy™ 2013 Conference, the most successful speakers we managed to snag were the ones who spent the most time at the conference talking with attendees and vendors, sitting in other sessions and networking at lunch and during the speaker reception at the end of the day. They were present and real, smiling and talking with everyone. They exchanged business cards, they mentioned on their websites, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages that they were speaking at our conference. They even pitched in at the conference where help was needed!
Having a tight schedule is one thing. That is understandable and excusable, especially if you let the conference organizers know ahead of time you’ll only be able to be at the conference for part of the day. But if you feel the need to show up right before your session and leave immediately after, if you don’t want to sit with strangers and network at lunch, if you’re of those speakers who remark, with their noses in the air, that, “I don’t attend workshops ─ I give them,” for no other reason than to impress everyone else (and yourself) about how special and important and successful you are, you might need to reflect a bit on the attitude you hold towards your work. But in the meantime, don’t be surprised if you don’t get asked back to speak again. Ever.
5) A good speaker says “thank you,” even if the experience was less than stellar. This is not at all altruistic. This is simply good business and good manners. Anyone who’s ever spoken at an event has had a bad experience at least once. The venue might be terrible, the attendance low, the equipment dismal, the organizers distracted and rude. Your name is misspelled in the program, or missing altogether. Been there, done that ─ haven’t we all? Sure, you can offer helpful (but not disparaging) feedback if asked, but still be sure to express your thanks. “Thanks” for being invited to speak, “thanks” to the attendees (all three of them) and “thanks” the next day on your Facebook page. There are two reasons why you should do this, the first being that the reason you wanted to speak in the first place was to get more people to know your name and your work. That was achieved. Whether it was achieved as you’d hoped or not is beside the point. You came, you spoke, you conquered and that appearance is now part of your platform, a conference/group/event at which you’ve spoken that you can add to your resume.
The second reason is in regards to the possibility that that bad experience was a one-off bad experience. The following year, the conference/group/event that was awful when you spoke at it the year before is now much improved. Attendance is higher, the venue better, the marketing and promotion bigger than ever, and the speakers more high profile. And guess what? Because you were so gracious—showed up and stayed a good while, spoke with everyone, didn’t mind winging it when your projector didn’t work and wrote about the experience in a positive way on social media, you’ve been asked back and are now one among those high profile speakers. And this time, the audience is bigger, too. Eventually, you land more speaking engagements as a result of being one of the speakers at this conference/group/event a second time. You’ve become an asset to the conference/group/event and the conference/group/event has become an asset to you. All because you were a good sport and a hence, a very good speaker, that first time.
Patricia V. Davis is a bestselling author and the founder of The Women’s PowerStrategy™ Conference. For more about her visit her website at www.patriciaVdavis.com