Last weekend I had the honor of presenting at the Fort Bragg Public Library as part of their Summer Reading Program.
I’ve been doing author presentations for quite a few years now. I thought I would share some of the things I’ve learned along the way and use examples from the Fort Bragg event to illustrate the points.
So here we go — 5 Tips for a Successful Author Presentation:
1. Show up Early
It’s always good to show up early. Even though I know from experience that it only takes me about 30 minutes to set up for an event, I showed up at the library 1 hour early. This turned out to be a good decision. The library has suffered from recent budget cutbacks. On the morning of my presentation, they were understaffed and very busy. The head librarian showed us the presentation room, but did not have time for set up. There were tables that needed to be put away, chairs to be set up, etc. Luckily, with the extra time I’d allowed, there was plenty of time to set up the room.
Which brings me to my next point…
2. Bring a friend
If friends or family members have some free time on their hands, see if you can rope them into helping you out. I actually wrangled 2 family members: Mom and Dad.
With the extra set-up required for the event, I was lucky to have my mom and dad with me. Dad took charge of organizing the chairs and tables. This left me and my mom free for the regular set-up. You never know when you might need some extra help, so bring someone along if you can. (Plus it never hurts to have someone there for moral support!)
3. Have Visual Aids
This might sound cheesy or seem a bit high school-ish, but don’t knock the value of visual aids when it comes to a successful presentation. There’s a few good reasons for this: 1) It gives the audience other things to look at. (And let’s face it, as amazing as we authors are, staring at us for 30 or more minutes can get boring.) 2) It gives you something to talk about.
I utilize quite a few different visual aids. I bring my original Raggedy Chan doll, along with a Raggedy Ann doll, both of which I’ve had since I was an infant. I also use illustrations from my book and historical artwork.
Don’t have an antique doll or nifty illustrations in your book? Get creative. Plumb the depths of your book for inspiration. Got a sci-fi novel? Hire an illustrator to create a picture of your space ship or alien. Got a fantasy novel? Create a power point presentation with pictures of historical clothing and compare them to the ones you characters wear. Or if you want to live on the edge: bring in the giant shoe box of rejection letters and talk about the writing process. You may have to get creative, but I guarantee every writer out there has plenty of interesting stuff to show the audience.
Which brings me to another point…
4. Always have a Plan B
While it’s great to have visual aids, it’s good to have a backup for your visual aids. Here’s an example of why:
I have a power point presentation that I like to use for presentations. It has all the illustrations I use. But I also have a backup for the power point presentation: illustrations enlarged and laminated to poster board.
This past weekend, I intended to use my power point presentation. Once I got to the library, I realized that wasn’t a good option. Because of the shape of the room (long and narrow) and the relatively large turnout (about 40 people) I would have had to stand in the middle of the audience in order to use the projector. That would have been awkward. Luckily, I had my laminated poster boards. I also had my mom (see tip #2) who was able to morph in Vanna White. While I spoke, she held up the various illustrations for the audience to see. If I hadn’t had my Plan B, the presentation would have been very awkward.
Vanna White (aka my mom) holding up a laminated illustration of Raggedy Chan and the Pern-yi Caterpillar
5. Give stuff away
Nothing gets the attention of people like free stuff. I give away Raggedy Chan bookmarks. I have 3 different quizzes that I use throughout my presentation. Every time a person correctly answers a quiz question, they get a bookmark.
This is an especially successful tool when presenting to children. The first time I ask a question, kids are hesitant to raise their hands and answer. As soon as they realize they can win a prize for correctly answering a question, they are on board. Hands shoot up before I even finish a question. Some kids try to answer every single question, even if they have already won a bookmark.
Giving away free stuff increases your audience participation. Bookmarks are a great thing to give away. They’re relatively inexpensive, plus you get to brand them with your website, name, and book cover. I’ve used both PS Print and Modern Postcard for bookmarks, though there are lots of other printers out there.
That’s it for presentation techniques. I’d love to hear presentation tips and anecdotes from other writers out there.