As an Author, Develop Your Public Speaking Abilities.
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By Dr. Maxine Thompson

The Hidden Benefits of Public Speaking for a Writer

"Fire setter." In my first career as a social worker, these two words used to strike terror in foster parents' hearts, and at the same time, spell the kiss of death for us, the case workers, when we were "stuck" with child placements at 6:00 p.m. quitting time. Oh, the euphemisms we used in convincing foster parents to take in our juvenile clients. ("Johnny has been known to be seen in the vicinity of a few fires." However, that's another story.)

And, in light of the recent rage of California wild fires, this word has taken on an even more insidious connotation, (particularly as my daughter and son-in-law's house in Escondido was threatened, although not harmed back in 2003.) And, yes, my heart and prayers go out to all the victims and their families of this recent catastrophe and many more that we have witnessed in California and other states since that time.

But I learned that there can be another meaning added to that word, "firesetter," as I began speaking over the past years. Speaking can set a fire going in your listeners' hearts and have them want to make changes in their lives.

I have never considered myself a good speaker, but several writers, who are now great speakers and the authors of a line of books, have told me they heard me speak back in 2000 at the Dallas Black Writers' Alliance Conference and it fired them up to start their own publishing companies. Needless to say, it made me realize it's not how polished you are, but the substance of what you have to offer people.

As a result, over the past 6 years, I've grown more confident as a speaker, but from that experience I learned how important public speaking can be to an author, particularly a self-published author. I sell most of my books after I speak and teach. (I will be doing a seminar at Black Writers on Tour on 3-11-06. Go to www.blackwritersontour.com)

One of the earlier speaking conferences I attended, the Mark Victor Hansen Hansen's "Build Your Mega Speaking Empire Where Future Where Future Platform Stars Meet the Speaking Industry's Greatest Experts & Starmakers" Conference held October 17, 2003 through October 19, 2003, at the Marriott Hotel in Los Angeles, California, started me to thinking about that word "firesetter." What if this pejorative term can be given a more positive spin, particularly when it comes to speakers?

Personally, I prefer to hear a speaker who takes the platform and sets a fire raging in the marrow of my bones. One who moves me to action. Now this is a good "fire setter." So how can a speaker become a metaphorical "fire setter"?

Before I answer this question, I must say this. First of all, The MVH Conference had a stellar line up of speakers, including Mark Victor Hansen, himself, Stedman Graham, the humorous Tom Antion, John Childers, Robert Allen and many others. Needless to say, this is an event every aspiring and professional speaker should plan to attend, if at all possible. (www.markvictorhansen.com.)

Of the many points I learned at the conference, though, such as how to brand yourself (Stedman Graham), the myriad ways that a speaker can build multiple streams of income (Janet Switzer), compliments of Infopreneur Robert Allen, "How to make money while you're sleep," and how to position yourself as an expert and build an empire (Mark Victor Hansen), I learned something else.

Although all the speakers had different professional styles and great content, I learned some of the qualities of a "fire setting speaker." The same way Billie Holiday, better known as Lady Day, could wrap her soul around the lyrics of a song, many of the "fire setting" speakers did this with the words of their speeches.

With this in mind, these are twelve-steps an aspiring speakers/writers can use.

1.   Connect with your audience within the first few minutes. The same way an author must catch his reader or editor's attention in the first 5 pages, a speaker has to make an emotional bond right away.

2.   Be yourself. Use small words with fire in them. Authenticity shines through.

3.   Your execution or delivery is important. The best speakers showed this in their relaxed body language, by their choice of words, and even by the rhythm of the language they used. (Rappers have intuitively known the power of iambic pentameter to reach brain waves, and speakers can make use of the same poetic devices such as alliteration, assonance, metaphors, similes, etc.)

4.   Make use of props. (Tom Antion was the king of this method.) Like a drum and clarinet can be an unusual combination, jazz up your presentation with visual aids or props. Be unpredictable, like jazz, so the audience can't predict to the letter exactly where your speech is headed.

5.   Perfect your showmanship. Being a "Thespian" now has a pretentious connotation, but it helps when a speaker has a flair for drama. In this vein, make use of anecdotes as stories are the way to reach a person's emotions. Parables have always been great guides for living as a human being.

6.   Provide intimacy-make each person think you are speaking only to him or her. Do this through eye contact throughout the audience. Walk around and don't hug the podium.

7.   Be willing to expose your vulnerability. It takes humility to be able to tell about your failures and what Deepak Chopra calls your "dharma"-your life's calling from that failure. Thus, the audience empathizes with the speaker more. At points, different speakers made personal disclosures and even cried during their presentations, which was very moving.

8.   Use oral interpretation. The best speakers, such as Mark Victor Hansen, were great mimics. This involved story telling ability, drama and theatrics.

9.   Enthusiasm covers a multitude of "sins." People like people who are passionate about what they are talking about and who smile a lot.

10.   Provide candor-"Shoot from the hip, or "Tell it like it is." Sensibility, the audience's capacity for being affected both emotionally or intellectually, is important. Telling the downside of what it is like to be a speaker in this economy, as well as the upside, helped.

11.   Use humor: It's great when you can make an audience laugh, but learn how to pause after the punch line.

12.   Last, learn timing and the power of the pause. This was a strong point I observed in Mark Victor Hansen's and John Childers's presentations.

Last, what I learned from this conference is that people take action when you reach the seat of motivation-the heart. Although I am a writer, I have since delivered a speech at San Diego State University's Jack And Jill of America, Inc. Program and plan to do more speaking engagements in the future. This, in itself, was another value taken away from the Mark Victor Hansen's Speaking conference.

So if you're a writer and you feel you can't possibly get up and speak, join the International Speaking Club, Toastmasters. I did and it has helped me tremendously as a business owner.


If you are interested in sponsorship packages for Internet promotion on my radio show, or upcoming 6 week writing class after Black Writers on Tour, please contact me at maxtho@aol.com or maxtho@sbcglobal.net.

Bio: Dr. Maxine E. Thompson is the owner of Black Butterfly Press, Maxine Thompson's Literary Services, Thompson Literary Agency and www.maxineshow.com. She hosts Internet radio shows on www.artistfirst.com and on www.voiceamerica.com. She is the author of six titles, The Ebony Tree, No Pockets in a Shroud, A Place Called Home, The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction That Sells, How to Publish, Market and Promote your book via Ebook Publishing, The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction That Sells. She has a story, "Second Chances", coming out in an anthology, Secret Lovers, published through Urban Books/Kensington's new Urban Soul Line in June 2006.