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My Path to More Successful Public Speaking

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I’ve had some humbling
experiences as a speaker lately, but they’ve led me to realize some things that
will help me and my audiences during future presentations. If you promote your
books through speaking engagements, my realizations might help you, too.


Here’s one: There are some things
that people don’t want to know. They may come to you with questions on the
subject of your expertise. They may attend your presentations on that topic.
But they don’t really want to hear what you have to say if it means stepping
outside their comfort zone. Someone who is seeking an easy way to achieve
something does not want to be given a complicated how-to list. Even the most
reasonable way to succeed can be a turnoff if it means having to change an
opinion or an approach.


Think about it. There are some
messages none of us wants to hear. For instance: “It’s time for you to visit
the dentist/doctor”; “You should be saving X% of your income”; and “You need to
quit smoking/eating so much.” What I’ve been discovering is that new authors do
not want to know how to write a book proposal. Nor do some of them want to hear
the negatives of going with a fee-based publishing service or the hazards of
buying just one ISBN from a publisher if they’ve already made a decision to do


While I was in Hawaii last week
giving workshops for the Honolulu branch of the National Pen Women Writers’
Conference, a gentleman named Jim came up to me and asked how to go about
getting his book published. I gave him some basic information and suggested
that he purchase my book on the subject. He pooh-poohed my information and my
suggestion and asked me again, “How do I go about getting my book published?” I
explained the basics again and handed him a copy of my book. “All the questions
you have are answered in this book,” I replied. He promptly put it down and
said, “But all I want to know is how to publish this one book.”


Finally, it occurred to me that
Jim—an attorney, by the way, and probably not into quick-and-easy answers
in his professional sphere—was seeking a quick-and-easy solution in our
field. He wanted to buck the system without even taking the time to understand


Of course, the magic he wanted
does not exist, but I might have been able to help him if I’d focused on
understanding his reality instead of trying to force him to work with mine.


Hard Choices on


Lately, I’ve had audiences filled
or at least sprinkled with people like Jim. They come to hear me talk about how
to write a book proposal, but they resist my message and my instructions. And,
after the session, they don’t buy my book.


Although I know that the process
of creating a book proposal can be intimidating, I assumed that, with only an
hour to teach the steps, I had no time to create a sense of camaraderie with
audience members. Or did I? Now I’m wondering whether building rapport with the
audience is more important than throwing the maximum number of unfamiliar facts
and processes at them.


That question breeds others.
Should I teach what I know as proficiently as I can for students who are ready
for the nitty-gritty, or should I risk short-changing them to help those who
aren’t? What happens to the students who would gobble up detailed material if I
cater to those who need to be hand-fed? Good handouts help. But above all, I
see now, it is important to establish a balance so that everyone walks away
with something they value.


Perhaps most people in the
audience would feel more comfortable with the work involved in writing a book
proposal if they knew that I once avoided writing them. It’s true. When someone
said “book proposal” to me, I covered my ears, closed my eyes, and started
chanting as loudly as I could, “<span
.” The very idea of preparing
a book proposal was way too overwhelming.


A confession like that would
certainly be a step toward establishing rapport—a connection, a
commonality. Maybe it is important to let your audience know that you have had
the same fears, desires, and concerns that they are experiencing before you
tell them how you managed to overcome the roadblocks.


At one workshop on book promotion
during the conference in Hawaii, the leader didn’t even attempt to teach
techniques. Instead, she shared personal stories that revealed things she
learned as she progressed along her own book-promotion trail. Because there was
a lesson for her at every promotional turn, the audience loved her warm style
and the wisdom she shared. And several of the students bought her books.


So I have some things to think
about before I present my next workshop. I will, I expect, decide to try to
entertain while I’m teaching. I will become vulnerable and admit my former
shortcomings in order to connect with my audience. I will remind myself that
some writers are not ready to shift into professional mode, even though they
say they want to be published. Some of them just aren’t ready for the
facts—the truth that they need to know to survive the competitive and
shark-infested waters of publishing—but if I give them information they
can accept and use today, perhaps they will come back for more advanced
information later.


The Persona Listeners Like


From now on, instead of focusing
on the myriad things that generally compose my book-proposal course, I’ll consider
selecting just a few ideas that will help my audience. I’ll flesh out those
ideas and gently massage them until the students become comfortable with the
concept or the process. Instead of attempting to teach students everything that
I think they need to know about my subject, maybe I’ll simply discuss the
reasons for the book proposal, the purpose it serves, its importance, and just
two main aspects of the book-proposal process. I’ll offer anecdotes
demonstrating or illustrating (rather than simply stating) the benefits of
writing a book proposal. And I will provide handouts with some of the more
advanced information these students will eventually need.


I’ve come to realize that speaking
is not like writing. In an article or a book, you must provide the hard facts
and the solutions succinctly—driving home the points and offering up the
necessary specifics. A reader wants you to be an authority, But a listener
wants you to be an ally, someone who offers nurturing and hand-holding, a


Patricia Fry is the author
of 24 books, including The
Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book
(Matilija Press,
2006) and How to Write a
Successful Book Proposal in 8 Days or Less
(Matilija Press,
2005). For more information: <span

or www.matilijapress.com/publishingblog.



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