As nice as it is to enjoy casual dress every day of the week and labor in solitude behind a computer, there are times that require a writer to get dressed, leave home and speak in public. I will be doing this next week.
Washing my face and finding clean clothes aside, I’m looking forward to it. Speaking in public allows me to meet readers, network with colleagues, and connect with potential clients.
There are several types of public speaking a writer can expect to do in the course of her career. What they all have in common is a chance to build audience organically, by showing, not telling. Just like writing.
Know your audience.
Like writing, it’s essential to know your audience. Next week, I will be talking with the New England Adobe Users Group about writing for the web. My audience is primarily one of web developers. They have a lot of computer savvy, and they’re technically oriented. I will talk about the technical aspects of language and syntax for clear web content and short, powerful, blog posts.
Educate and entertain.
As with writing, content matters. I have to deliver worthwhile information, and I have to deliver it in an interesting manner. In short, I have to educate and entertain to make attending this talk worth my audience’s while.
Suit the medium to the message.
For this talk, I will use projected visuals to demonstrate how diction, word order and concision work to hone a message with laser precision, and I’ll give attendees lots of examples, so they can see these techniques in action.
A technical talk like Words on the Web is more about education than entertainment. When I give author talks, it’s the reverse.
Entertain and educate.
When I make an author appearance for Into the Wilderness at a library, historical society, reading group or bookstore, I have a chance to give readers extra content, similar to “web extras” offered in print journals – only in reverse. Instead of going on-line for extra content, they show up to meet me in person.
Readers are curious about the historical background to the novel’s setting and the backstory to writing the book. Readers frequently want to know what’s autobiographical and what’s made up and how I create and sustain a fictional world. Because fiction is magical, readers want to hear about the alchemy of writing it, whether I use a pen or a keyboard, write in the morning or at night.
Meet and greet.
Just as an author appearance allows readers to see the writer in the flesh, it also allows a writer to meet her readers in person. This kind of validation is a wonderful change from the months – sometimes years – of working in the relative isolation of one’s imaginary world.
Because I’m also an editorial writer and a radio commentator, I’m sometimes asked to speak on a specific issue or for a particular event. These are the hardest public speaking events for me, because they require me to think in real time and speak without the benefit of revision, which I always do before sending anything out for publication in pixels or print.
Speech making is theater.
These events also require some theatrical talent to insure a lively delivery. For me, this means speaking from an outline rather than reading from a script. Reading a speech is guaranteed to send your audience to sleep; do that and you miss your chance to be heard.
But being heard isn’t enough. If it were, my radio audience would be satisfied with the broadcast of my voice. When a writer is invited to speak in public, the audience wants to see the person behind the words. And for this reason above all, speaking in public requires a writer dress up.
Deborah Lee Luskin is an author, blogger and pen-for-hire, as well as a frequent public speaker.