Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pleasing Words

View from over the Atlantic heading to London
I was recently asked how one begins and nurtures a speaking enterprise, so I thought I'd outline what I think are the essentials.

1. Have something worthwhile to say. As a fledgling author, I received the excellent advice to become an expert on something that people want to know. Something that will uproot them from their easy chairs to come hear about. Something marketable.

So my first series of presentations were "Young Writers Workshops" geared toward middle and high school students. They were associated with my two YA historical novels, The Distant Shore and Billowing Sails. These fun, highly energetic, audience-responsive PowerPoint presentations became quite popular with homeschool groups and both Christian and public English classes. Most of my advertisement was using plain old elbow grease - calling or e-mailing every school I could find with my verbal pitch and persistently following up until I had a date nailed down.

I used this same technique when marketing my "So You Want to be a Writer..." workshop to adults when my book for aspiring writers came out, Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers. I also developed a nice one-page flyer featuring my author letterhead.

At this point, I also had a glossy, 2-sided professional bookmark created to hand out for inexpensive advertisement. It containing my book covers and bio (and website - most important for future contact!). Printrunner was my choice for quality work at a reasonable price. 

When I expanded into women's books such as Mom NEEDS Chocolate and my recently released Too Blessed to be Stressed, I prepared a half-dozen presentations featuring topics from my books that were universally sought after by women, such as dealing with stress, beauty issues, aging, relationships, finding balance, and tuning in to the Holy Spirit's guidance. 

2. Develop a professional brochure. I soon realized that my verbal pitch, flyer, and bookmarks weren't enough if I wanted to expand my speaking audiences. Prospective clients need something impressive in their hands, something to show their employers for approval before booking (especially if an honorarium is involved). So I sprung for a glossy, tri-fold brochure (Printrunner) which I display on my book table at signings and speaking gigs. I also developed an e-version, which proved to be more affordable and effective than snail-mailing brochures to churches and women's organizations all over the country.

3. Give them what they want to hear. Although during the 5 years of my speaking career I've been occasionally asked to speak on a topic off my beaten list (usually to fit into a theme the group has already established), I've almost always been able to tweak one of my existing presentations sufficiently to avoid creating a whole new speech. Unfortunately, not always. My husband still laughs about the time goofy, humor-writer me was asked to speak about "The Evolving World View of Christianity." 

When speaking to groups, humor almost always guarantees you'll be a hit (funerals are obvious exceptions). I've learned that not all humor translates well from the page to the mouth - some things are just funnier on paper and should stay there.

In my genre, audience participation is a must. I sprinkle numerous yes/no/are you with me? questions throughout my speeches and always begin with either a brief funny video or joke pertinent to the topic, and close with a crazy sing-along song. It's imperative that the listeners leave smiling ... and with your book in their hand.

4. Be prepared for smooth back room book sales. Assemble an appealing display of your books on an ample sized table (nothing's worse than having them all scrunched up on a too-tiny table). Arrive early to set up your book table using a nice tablecloth (that you bring) and props that will catch the eye and draw people to your wares.

I take a rolling crate containing an inexpensive (but doesn't look that way), unwrinkleable, white lace tablecloth that can be folded to fit any size table, a clear plastic upright brochure holder containing my brochures, business cards and bookmarks as the centerpiece, an upright flyer listing the book titles and prices, and several creative containers of colorful chocolates and cheerful silk flowers to liven up things a bit.

Create an easy-to-use spread sheet or inventory chart to keep track of book sales. I use one with my titles and prices listed on the left with a space on the right for hash marks to notate each book sold. I've learned the wisdom of requesting a "book table helper" at the time of the event booking who will be responsible for collecting money, giving change, and marking the inventory chart. It's just too hard to do all that, sign books, and chat with your new friends at the same time.

A successful speaking enterprise requires a bit of planning and preparation, but you'll find immense fulfillment in the gratitude you receive from the hearts touched by the Lord through your efforts.
May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Psalm 19:14, NLT