Saturday, January 29, 2022

Public Speaking for Authors - Part One - By Jeanne Burrows-Johnson


ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE...and it awaits the imprint of your brand!

The success of a branding program rests on harmonizing the look, sound, and feel of all of its components, including the setting in which an author speaks publicly. While you may not be able to completely control the physical environment of your presentations, you can enhance the overall positive impact of the experience for yourself and your audience.


If you have never spoken at the venue, you’ll be relying on the event’s organizers to provide the correct information regarding lighting, voice amplification, and projection of materials you’ll utilize to highlight your speaking points. In addition, they’ll be scheduling the podium, table, and/or chair from which you’ll speak. If possible, visit the venue in advance of the event. While this may be easy in your hometown, it can be impossible when you’re working in another city [let alone country]. Therefore, it’s good to arrive a day in advance of your presentation. If you’re lucky, you will be delivering your remarks at the hotel in which you are staying. As this is seldom the case, travel with the basics you require to be effective.


Depending on your height and weight, and position in relation to the audience, you may need to modify your hair, clothing, shoes, and/or accessories to maximize your facial and overall visibility. Speaking engagements often occur in rooms with a stage that is at least a step above the floor on which the audience is seated. This enhances your visibility as a speaker, but it means you must look good from the top of your head to the bottoms of your shoes. And although many stages are carpeted, older wooden or tiled stages may have uneven surfaces, for which you will require sturdy and slip-resistant footwear.


Sole presenters in a public venue usually have access to a podium. Free-standing or tabletop, it should offer sides that mask your script, notes, watch, and other items you may need to reference. Unless a free-standing podium is constructed of a tubular frame, it is probable that you’ll be visible only from your chest up. That gives you more flexibility in your stance and movement of your feet. If the podium is comprised of a hollow frame or positioned on top of a table that has no tablecloth, you will not have that luxury.


The quality of your natural speaking voice can be either an asset or detriment in public speaking. Depending on your audience, even the strongest of voices expressed in the wrong tonal range can be hard for some listeners to hear properly. Many podiums are set up with a microphone fixed in position. If you learn you’ll be using a hand-held mic, you may want to obtain a small stand in order to free your hands for gesturing, pointing to overhead projections, etc. Having said this, I must note some presenters like to speak off the cuff rather from written material and prefer a handheld or wireless mic so they can roam freely—sometimes even moving within their audience. 

Be aware that the effectiveness of the microphone you use [especially lavaliere or headsets] can depend on your neckline, arrangement of hair, and any chain or necklace you wear. Also consider that dangling earrings and loose watches or bracelets can interfere with sound projection. Having a strong voice may lessen the need to provide your own electronic equipment. However, if you are embarking on a lengthy tour, you might consider acquiring sound equipment that can make you more independent of the facilities in which you appear—if it is compatible with the speakers to which your equipment will be connected. In making such a decision, you will want to seek the input of an electronics specialist.


Will you be able to set up a display that greets and enlivens your audience? At the minimum, you should be able to drape a banner over the front of a podium [using double sided tape, if nothing else]. I carry the banner from the release of my first book. I also travel with varied sizes of my shipping boxes on which I can place color-coordinated tablecloths to create elevated surfaces for displaying signage, products, and handouts. Stands of varying proportions allow me to maximize visibility across a room. Of course, be cautious about displaying valuable items which could disappear… 

Enlargements of colorful book covers, pictures of previous appearances, and banners with both your image and the works you’re presenting make a wonderful background for highlighting fliers, future project descriptions, and business cards. I always order hardcover books with embossed jacket fronts which are durable event samples [and are popular with libraries concerned with their collection’s longevity]. By presenting them on stands, as well as on the tabletop, I am inviting people to pick them up. If there’s a theme to your work, you can add decorative items that reinforce such a reference. As most of my work centers on Hawai`i, I display a shell lei or two, a golden fish business card holder, and tablecloths that harmonize with my book cover colors.


If you’re speaking in your hometown and have checked out the venue, you’ll know what you need to carry with you. The one thing that may affect your preparations is a change in the size of your audience, thereby impacting the number of books and handouts required. When traveling to a long-distance destination, try to send a box of books and promotional materials ahead to a friend, colleague, or even the hotel at which you’ll be staying. Generally strategize the items you should carry personally, rather than check into a plane or train’s luggage compartment. 

I recall my gratitude for arriving in Hilo, Hawaii, two days ahead of an engagement following a trip to the U.S. mainland. I was performing Scottish Highland Dancing and was shocked to learn that my costumes were never transferred from my original plane and thus they sat in Honolulu for a day. As an author, I now keep the following items with me personally when traveling to author appearances: memory sticks and master copies of materials needed for display and distribution; one copy of pertinent books and project samples; one small tablecloth and a shell lei to personalize my displays; a couple of copies of a short biography; two 3 x 5 inch cards with an introduction of me and my presentation; a name badge with large print and pertinent professional organizational pins; a beautiful artificial orchid for my hair; and, one elegant jacket to dress up even an emergency wardrobe purchase if my luggage does not arrive with me!

Jeanne Burrows-Johnson is a published author who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. To find out more about Jeanne, go to her website at:

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