Marketing a Book – #8 Public Speaking
In my last post, I blogged about a book signing experience then ended by announcing an invitation to speak to a chapter of Probus, an association of retired former Rotarians. That event occurred on June 15, but it took some time to reflect on the experience. This was the first opportunity to present elements of my writing to the public as a presenter and merited considerable reflection.
The invitation came as the result of an interview published in our local newspaper, which was the subject of an earlier post. The request was fairly specific, asking for a presentation on how I wrote an autobiography. The presentation had to be focused and address some specific points in one hour.
· What motivated my writing?
· How was the work of writing structured?
· How was the content generated and developed?
The venue was small and the audience numbered about twenty-five individuals. A PowerPoint presentation was saved on my hard drive and backed up in Dropbox. The hall was equipped with a newly installed 42 inch flat screen television with HDMI input ports, on screen instructions and a person in charge of the AV equipment with a minimum of knowledge about the system was there to help me set up. In fact, today was the first time it had been used in a presentation like mine.
I knew that AV equipment always needed setup and every system was different, so I arrived at the hall about thirty minutes prior to the time my presentation was to start. By the time, zero hour arrived everything was connected to my laptop and few PowerPoint slides prepared to illustrate the presentation were set at the introductory slide. I was ready to launch.
The presentation was titled, A LEGACY OF EXPERIENCE: Memoirs Speak Across the Generations: What do You Want to Say and to Whom? It touched on all the points as per the request, but also included some basic ideas about memory in general and autobiographical memory in particular. It was equally important to explain the nature and origin of self-image and self-esteem, two factors which influence how we remember the events of our lifetime.
Since my audience was essentially Caucasian and Christian and much of my writing is informed by basic ideas in Buddhism, Taoism, and Zen Buddhism, it was important to explain the elements of those philosophies which shaped my thinking and writing. This audience, and perhaps most audiences I might face, need to see a shift toward Eastern philosophies as a move toward fundamental human values, not a repudiation of their fundamental belief system. The last thing one wants is to offend his audience, an issue that occupied my thoughts as I prepared for this event.
Once the basic concepts and philosophies supporting my writing were stated, the remainder of the talk focused on a structured approach to memoir writing. The concept of building an autobiography on the symbolism and structure of a Zen style garden was carefully unfolded for the audience. Each of the six elements found in such a garden was explained in terms of how it relates to the different aspects that form the narrative of a lifetime. In Through a Lens of Emptiness: Reflections on Life, Longevity and Contentment, I use this specific structural organization and symbolism to document my own life narrative in order to illustrate how that structure is applied in practice.
Years of experience in the classroom hones one’s observational skills. It is possible to gauge the interest and focus of an audience during a presentation (lesson) by body language, and following it by the number and quality of questions and interactions from the audience. One also learns how to pace the rate of speaking, modulate the voice, and move smoothly from the front of the hall into the audience and back again as needed to maintain contact with the audience. The power and efficacy of a presentation is also enhanced by appropriate eye contact and through the body language of the presenter.
An experienced presenter, like an experienced teacher, carry an evaluation rubric based on the above points in their head. Also, they become adept evaluators of their own behavior as a presenter (teacher) while they are speaking. While it may appear immodest to the reader, I felt pretty good about the whole event based on an evaluation of my behaviors, presenting style, and audience reaction before and after the presentation. I am comfortable making this judgement since, as a teacher, I always told my students that “I would fail my own mother is her performance warranted it”, and have always rated my own performance by a rigid and high standard.
After eight years in retirement, one always wonders if they still have the skills that made them successful as a presenter of information. This first event in my new life as an author and public speaker was an important one. I learned “I’ve still got it,” whatever “IT” is and am confident there is a future for me as a public speaker. At the age of sixty-nine (this August) an enthusiasm to make new beginnings and take on new challenges not only exists but thrives. My next challenge is to generate some more opportunities to speak publicly. I’ll let you know how that works out in a few months.
As always, your faithful blogger,
L Alan Weiss (Larry) – Author