In the 1880s, Mark Twain fell in love with the Paige Compositor typesetting invention that promised to revolutionize the publishing industry by making book printing easier and cheaper. Twain was a friend of Edison and Tesla in that golden age of world-changing inventions. Every few years, Edison and Tesla were both cranking out inventions we still use today.
So Mark Twain invested the equivalent of $10 million into the Paige Compositor machine. He even contributed his wife’s inheritance. He was “all in” on this technology he believed would enable people to print books faster and cheaper.
When the Linotype machine came out, the Paige typesetting company folded. Twain’s investment was lost.
Around the same time, Mark Twain also faced the bankruptcy of his own publishing company. As a result, Twain found himself in considerable debt by the 1890s.
What would you do if you were a famous author facing bankruptcy and loss of everything?
You’d probably want to write another book.
That’s what Mark Twain tried. He rushed to publish his book called Pudd’nhead Wilson. If he had spent more time on it, that book could have become his magnum opus. It had elements of his most popular works, but the novel was not polished like his previous works; and his financial troubles continued even as he declared bankruptcy.
To recoup his losses and pay off debts, Mark Twain embarked on a worldwide public speaking tour. He spoke in Australia, New Zealand, India, and South Africa. His speaking engagements were incredibly popular, and he drew large crowds who were happy to pay to hear him speak and happy to buy his books.
Earnings from his lecture tour and the sales of his books and articles allowed him to rebuild his finances. By the time the tour ended, he was able to pay off his debts and return to the United States with his head held high.
Public speaking saved Mark Twain’s finances, and it could save your writing career as well. Public speaking helps you get to know your audience, hone your message, and sell books in the back of the room.
So why don’t more authors speak more often?
Many authors are nervous, even terrified, to speak in front of people. Other authors want to speak but don’t know how to adapt their message for a stage. Some novelists wonder if public speaking is even an option.
How can you adapt your book into a compelling presentation?
How do you become a confident and eloquent speaker?
I asked Kirsten Holmberg, who loves to help people grow as public speakers. She’s trained TEDx speakers, she’s a devotional writer and a public-speaking coach, and she’s helped executives and entrepreneurs as well.
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Why is public speaking so scary?
Thomas: Why is public speaking so scary?
Kirsten: People feel those eyeballs staring at them, which feels threatening. Fear is actually well-intentioned. If a speaker is afraid, it means they care. As speakers, we care about our messages and the people we serve.
Thomas: Early in my public speaking career, my mentors told me, “You can’t do your best work if you’re not a little nervous.”
The nervousness you feel is your body building up energy to help you give a good performance. Today I get more concerned about my performance when I’m not nervous. Without a little nervous energy, I don’t have the energy I need to crush it from the stage.
Feeling nervous and feeling excited are physiologically the same. The same adrenaline is creating that feeling. The only difference is the story you’re telling yourself.
If you’re telling yourself, “Oh my gosh. I’m so nervous, and this is scary,” then your task will be harder.
But if you’re saying, “Yes! I’ve got the energy I need to do a good job!” then suddenly, that adrenaline helps you.
Is it nerves or excitement?
Kirsten: You’re exactly right. I was backstage with some of my TEDx speakers a few years ago; and someone kept asking them, “Are you nervous?” I wanted to push that person out of the room, but one of my speakers was poised. She said, “I’m excited.”
Thomas: People often can’t tell that you’re nervous. From the back of the room, they can’t see your hands shaking and that quiver in your voice makes you sound passionate.
Unless you tell people, “I’m nervous,” they may never know.
Kirsten: Even when audiences can recognize our nerves, we need to remember that the audience is cheering for us.
I have never experienced an audience being as critical as a speaker seems to believe they are. I’ve seen audiences root for the speaker, even if they were fumbling.
Instead of viewing our audience as an adversary, we need to adopt a posture of service toward them. We must remind ourselves, “I’m here to give them a gift they need. God has given me this message, and I’m serving him with it.”
It helps reframe that experience.
Thomas: The more you love your audience, the less fear you have. If you could love your audience perfectly, it would cast out all fear. Aiming for a purpose reshapes all those emotions.
A small, timid mother can pull a car off her child without knowing where the strength came from. She’s motivated by her love and strengthened by adrenaline.
Your audience is made up of God’s children. As you lean into that love, you won’t be thinking of yourself, which will help your nerves and performance. Ultimately, it will be a more beneficial blessing to your audience.
Kirsten: Before you deliver a presentation, think about who will be in the room and what they need. That will help you tailor your content to meet their needs. You’ll begin to see their humanity and the Imago Dei in them. With that perspective, you’ll be able to love them well.
Thomas: If you’re speaking in person, you have the advantage of receiving real-time feedback. You get to see people’s faces. Their expressions will tell you if they’re understanding or bored and if you need to speed up or slow down.
I like smaller venues because people feel comfortable enough to raise their hands and interrupt. I appreciate that, especially when I’m working on a new talk because it allows me to identify weak spots.
If people ask the same question each time I give the talk, I can answer that question as part of the talk. I know I’m tracking with the audience when someone raises their hand with a question, and the next slide answers it.
Kirsten: I like the dissent too. When someone offers a bit of pushback, I appreciate that they are helping me think more critically about my content.
Even a dissenting viewpoint is helpful. It reminds me that the people are listening close enough to be curious.
Thomas: Of course, dissenters are also intimidating. People fear receiving public criticism or a hard question during the question-and-answer session because they’re worried they won’t know the answer.
What advice do you have for somebody worried about taking questions at the end?
Kirsten: If there will be time for questions or a meet-n-greet, you’ll likely get those questions during those times. I coach my clients to practice the question-and-answer session. Get in front of an audience, and have them poke holes in your speech.
You can also save some of your content as additional bonus material. When someone asks a pertinent question, you can give that bonus material as part of the answer.
I have my clients rehearse the question-and-answer session so it doesn’t make them feel “off their game.” Part of the strategy there is to pivot away from anything that isn’t on-topic into something that relates.
What’s the best way to practice?
Thomas: You can practice in the mirror, but it’s far more helpful to practice in front of another human, even your kids. Kids make a great audience because they’re wiggly. If you can hold your children’s attention while speaking about your professional topic, then you know you’ve got a good talk.
Practice in front of your spouse or roommate. I used to be a speech and debate coach for a homeschool, high school team. To work out the “ums” and “uhs,” we would tell a student to give their little brother a pile of rubber bands while listening to the student practice the speech. Every time the student said “um,” the little brother got to shoot a rubber band at them.
That little exercise worked out the “ums” and “uhs” really fast, and it kept the younger sibling motivated to listen to the fifth iteration of his sibling’s presentation.
It’s easy to get your wife to listen the first time, but you have to ask nicely if you want her to listen the fifth time.
Kirsten: I encourage my clients to rehearse in front of the camera. It’s so easy. Simply open a zoom meeting and click record, or set up your phone and click record. It’s helpful to have that bit of extra stress that comes from seeing and hearing what you’re doing wrong.
We don’t always know that we’ve got spinach in our teeth, and don’t you want to know? Your friends may not tell you. The video camera won’t lie.
Thomas: Recording allows you to hear your talk as well, and you will hear things you’ll want to fix. Listening to your own podcast is one of the best ways to improve it. You’ll hear irritating things or discover you could have clarified a certain point. You’ll improve faster by listening to the recording.
Kirsten: The beautiful thing is that you get to see yourself through the eyes of your audience. Nobody wants to watch themselves on video, but it is far and away the best way to improve as a speaker.
People often say, “I can’t stand the sound of my voice,” but that’s because your voice sounds different to you than it does to everyone else. When you hear your own voice, you are hearing through bone conduction and sound waves in the air. When you’re listening to yourself on a recording, it’s not coming through your bone conduction. It’s only coming through the air, so you sound different.
Thomas: My advice is to get over yourself. It’s not about you. Give the speech to bless your audience. If you don’t like the sound of your voice, too bad. Do it anyway.
Kirsten: Talk to God about it.
What’s the best way to evaluate a video of your talk?
Kirsten: I have a blog post called Why you should watch your speaking footage and a video footage evaluation rubric that people can use to evaluate their performance. It guides you through the process.
My pro tip is to encourage you to watch and listen to your video in three different ways. The first time, just watch the video without sound so you can see what you’re doing. Later, listen to it without looking at the screen. You’ll only hear what’s happening. Splitting those two mediums will help you focus on what works.
Play the video a third time, so you can watch and listen to see how the audio and video work together.
How do you handle question-and-answer sessions?
Thomas: As I’m prepping a talk, I also prep the first question for the question-and-answer time. Usually, when you open it up for questions, everyone panics, and their minds go blank.
Everybody wants to go second. If no one asks that first question, you’ll have awkward silence for you and the audience. Have your first question ready to go. Say, “People often ask me…,” and then state the question as if somebody had asked it. Then, you answer the question.
While you’re answering that question, people’s minds will start engaging again. When you ask for questions again, hands will go up. Your question leads to a more natural transition, and it lets you set the tone by asking the first question.
On the occasion that someone is ready with the first question, I’ll skip my prepared question.
Kirsten: My favorite question-and-answer tip is not to end with the question-and-answer segment. Pause right before you go to your conclusion. Invite the questions. Perhaps insert a question to give them time to process, but don’t leave them on the Q&A. Leave them with the beautiful conclusion you’ve crafted purposefully.
By doing so, you’re leveraging the psychological principle of recency that says they’ll remember best what they heard most recently. You may not want them to remember that last question. You want them to remember your core message, so crafting a strong ending is a more powerful way to end.
Thomas: I use what I call the power close. I’ve found you have to tell the conference organizer or emcee that you have a closing remark or story to tell after the Q&A. If you don’t, the emcee will sometimes jump in to cut things off, especially if questions are going long.
Ask for two minutes to deliver the special power close you’ve prepared. Ideally, it’s some sort of story that connects to the story I started with; but it sums up the entire message.
You don’t want to end the session with a technical and nerdy question like “What version of WordPress do you recommend?”
Thomas: It’s important to remember you can answer a question with, “I don’t know.”
I used to do open-air preaching in college. In our training, we studied Jesus’ speeches because much of what he did was open-air preaching. Jesus got hecklers who’d ask pointed questions to stump him.
In college, we’d go down to the bar district to share the gospel, and we realized that a heckler is the best thing to happen to you. You might have five or ten people listening at first; but once you get a heckler, suddenly, 50 people are listening because everybody wants to hear.
To invite hecklers, so to speak, I would ask, “Does anybody have any questions or objections to Christianity?”
One of the things that allowed me to confidently ask that question was that I had one super answer for questions I didn’t know the answer to.
They would state the question, and I would restate their question. Then I’d say, “Are you ready for my answer?” Things would get quie; and I’d say, “I don’t know.”
Everybody would chuckle. It’s okay to not have all the answers. I’m not pretending to know everything there is to know about Christianity.
Kirsten: I think audiences trust you when they can see your humanity; and that authenticity shows up when we say, “I don’t know, but I would love to have a conversation about that. After I do some research, maybe we can sit down and talk.”
Thomas: Today, when I don’t have a good answer to a podcast listener’s question, I say, “That’s a great topic for a future episode.”
After I do the research or find an expert to interview, we can answer that question.
How do I turn a 300-page book into a 20-minute speech?
Kirsten: First, kudos to all the writers who finish books. That is a labor of love, especially when you see so much of it on the cutting-room floor. That’s a big deal.
How do we take any message and turn it into a talk?
First, I make sure the author knows their book’s main message. Then, we can ask whether that message needs to be the subject of the talk. Sometimes, we can break it down into pertinent parts from a chapter.
My fiction-writing clients often wonder how they can construct a talk from a novel. I remind them that all fiction books have an overarching message. Nonfiction writers can take a section or chapter of their book and build that into a message.
The key is to make sure you’re giving one message. As writers, we fall in love with our content and want to share all the good things! Every little nugget! You must be willing to ask yourself, “What’s the one thing I want this audience to know in this 20-minute talk?”
Finding that one message most suitable for that particular audience and then retooling it for the spoken format is hard.
Thomas: Mark Twain was not reading selections from his novels. He was going around insulting people from the stage. One of his famous talks insulted the German language. He complained about the crazy German language for 30 minutes while speaking bad German to an audience of Germans.
It was well received, but that probably won’t work for you.
How do you develop your book’s theme into a talk?
Thomas: How do you find that theme in your book and develop it into a talk?
Kirsten: First, you have to know the theme, then you have to marry it to the audience’s needs.
Writers usually have a real experience that prompts a fictional story around a theme from the experience. If you know the message of your book, you can intersect it with your audience’s needs and pain points. We start crafting a message that meets their pain points and is congruent with our message. Then, we pare down the verbiage to discrete soundbites.
Writers struggle to distill their message into shorter sentences, but they have to understand they’re not writing for the eyes. They’re writing for the ears.
How do you tailor your talk to a specific audience?
Thomas: If you’ve written a health and weight-loss book, you’ll present your material differently to health coaches than to people who don’t know the difference between proteins and fats. Both groups have different levels of expertise.
Preparing a good talk starts with interviewing the event coordinator about who will be in the audience. Sometimes, the person reaching out to you doesn’t know the audience well.
When I speak at an author’s event, I like to know whether most of the writers are writing fiction or nonfiction. If the coordinator doesn’t know what percentage of the audience writes fiction, one of the other speakers might.
Learning about your audience ahead of time will go a long way in helping you adapt your presentation to that audience.
Kirsten: If you can’t find out specifics on who your audiences will be, you can still go through the intellectual exercise of asking yourself, “What do I know?”
Who might be there? What kind of persona can you build?
It’s the same exercise as identifying your reader.
Thomas: Arriving at the conference early also helps you learn about the audience. Listen to the person who speaks before you. Chat with folks. Get a feel for the room.
I interviewed a humorist who was scheduled to speak at an event where one of the organization’s leaders had recently died unexpectedly. If she hadn’t shown up early and gotten a feel for how things were going, it would have been a disaster. That information helped her change her presentation in the moment.
And this is where practice comes in because the more times you perform and practice, the easier it is to adapt to different audiences. A memorized script isn’t helpful when you need to change things on the fly.
Kirsten: Writers and authors are rightly concerned about their word choice. We love the way we’ve crafted our messages. Writers and academics want to use precise language, so they write a script and either memorize it or stick to the script. But they don’t realize their script sets up the wrong metric for success.
The script makes them say, “I will succeed here if I deliver this speech verbatim.” However, the metric for success needs to be based on whether the audience got what they needed. Did they get a gift? Were they served by my message?
We have to step away from the preplanned messaging.
We need to be very familiar with our bullet points and message, but we can’t be married to how we want it to come out. We only hurt ourselves and the audience when we do that.
Thomas: If you want to memorize something, memorize your intro and maybe your outro, but the body of your speech needs to be more extemporaneous.
The audience should be able to vote on your performance with their laughter, applause, and facial expressions.
Every performance should be different because it will be influenced by the audience. It should be more like music in that way. The fact that it could end in disaster makes it kind of fun.
Kirsten: It goes back to fear. We’re angsty about getting in front of the audience because we care. God designed us to be a collective group of people as a body, and we must play our role and honor the rest of the body. For that reason, we care about our delivery.
We need to reframe that fear as a good thing. It means you care.
Thomas: The most terrifying speech I gave was to my own church on a Sunday morning.
We’re a responsive congregation, so I knew there would be reactions; and that was intimidating. But I also knew I was going to see those people again the following week. I’d have to continue to live with those people. That fact motivated me to prepare and pray because I was scared.
Adapting a book is tricky, but it’s also an opportunity. A book is basically black text on a white page, but when you’re presenting, you can have props, slides, audience interaction, or singing. There’s a massive playbook for speakers, and a presentation can become very different from the same content in a book.
How can we add some spice to our presentations?
Kirsten: Your subject matter and environment will determine what kind of illustration you can use.
One of the advantages of being an author who speaks is that you give your work a voice. Your audience will then hear your voice, and that connection is beautiful.
Besides the auditory connection, I recommend using an illustration for every key point in your talk. You’ve got one overarching message with discrete points inside of it.
To discover what illustrations you want to use, ask yourself two questions:
- What do I want my audience to feel at this juncture?
- How can I elicit that emotion?
The illustration needs to be on-brand for you. If people don’t normally experience you as a funny person, you won’t be able to pull off humor without a ton of practice. Elicit emotions in a way that’s congruent with who you are.
- Do I want to show them a picture?
- Do they need some data?
- Is there an anecdotal story that illustrates the point?
- Do I ask a question?
- Do I ask them to stand up?
What will best suit the emotion you want them to experience? Emotion is the chief encoder of memory, and we want our audiences to remember. Find the point, determine what emotion you want them to experience, and discover how you can best elicit that emotion.
Thomas: The most important thing is to practice.
The first time I deliver a talk, it’s 20 minutes longer than the second time. All the content is still there for round two, but the sentences are shorter. I don’t wordsmith the sentences to shorten them. I simply practice giving the talk in less time. I figured out what I could cut if I only had 20 minutes to give the talk or how to tell a story more efficiently. Can I tell a five-minute story in one minute that hits all the same points?
The more you practice, the tighter your sentences get. Tighter sentences mean more content, jokes, or encouragement per minute. That’s what makes the presentation more compelling.
Kirsten: I never like giving the 20-minute version of a talk after I’ve given a 15-minute version. Paring it down makes me a better speaker, and I never like the longer version once that’s said and done.
Writers have the superpower of knowing how to craft a story and understanding a storytelling structure. We understand the narrative structure.
Think about crafting your message using a three-act structure. You might prefer another storytelling methodology, but be sure you have a narrative structure for the presentation you’re building. Extract that theme, find where it intersects with their lives, and construct it using that same framework you’ve been trained in.
Writers can be great at this. We just have to remember to apply it.
How can I apply a three-act structure to my talk?
Thomas: How do you craft a good first act of your talk?
Kirsten: First, you need a good hook. Think of that first line of a novel or nonfiction book. It needs to hook our attention. While the first act needs to set the context and give the audience a sense of what they’re in for, it also needs to show them why it matters.
Most speakers come on stage and start with the “thank you.” You’re squandering their attention right out of the gate if you do that.
My favorite talks started with something captivating. Give me a reason to listen immediately, and then set the stage. Whet my appetite. Give me a glimpse of the beautiful future that your talk will take me toward.
Thomas: And for the love of dramatic tension, don’t give away the ending.
In speech class, you were taught this rule:
- Tell them what you’re going to tell them.
- Tell them.
- Tell them what you told them.
That’s a terrible rule for storytelling. That rule only exists to make it easier for teachers to give their students grades.
Do the opposite of what you learned in speech class. Say, “Here’s a curious question, and I won’t answer it until the end of the speech.” Give them some reason at the beginning to hang on until the end.
A fishhook has a pointy end; but it also has a barb, which keeps the fish from escaping. Your barb is the curiosity that you’re not satisfying right away, but you will by the end of the talk.
Kirsten: We call it a hook because we’re trying to find a way to keep their attention throughout. They need to know what they will get out of it, not how they will get there.
How do you craft the second act of the talk?
Thomas: We’ve hooked their attention in the first act. How do we take them to the fun and games of act two?
Kirsten: The fun and games or messy middle, whatever it might be.
Nancy Duarte researched how the greatest communicators of all time structured their talks. She explains in her TEDx talk that they encoded tension between how things are and how things could be.
The second act of your talk explores that tension. We want to touch intermittently on how our audience is currently thinking about something and then show them a better way. Throughout your talk, you can move back and forth between the two. That creates the tension, and it’s the essence of persuasion. If you’re showing me how things are and how they could be, then you’re telling me I want your idea. I want the message you’re presenting.
That messy middle needs to include the tension and release of tension.
Thomas: It also includes an emotional range.
The end of act two in a book is often the saddest, darkest moment.
It’s okay to go there with your speech. A good speech is kind of like a piece of music. The piano and forte dynamics add drama to the song. Your speech can be the same way. You don’t have to be loud the whole time. You can whisper something from the stage. Whispered words are often the loudest in people’s hearts.
You have to be okay with letting people feel sadness and sorrow. It will make your conclusion in act three all the more rewarding.
Kirsten: You’re talking about the paraverbal content. How are we delivering that? Is my voice getting lower because the content is serious? Or am I excited, so my voice gets higher and I talk faster? Or do I need to slow down so you feel the pain?
Those are tools we can purposefully use when we practice.
How do you conclude a speech?
Thomas: How do you end the speech with act three? How do you earn that standing ovation?
Kirsten: Well, let’s not aim for the ovation. Let’s aim for excellence. We’re giving the audience a gift for God’s glory. That’s the frame of mind we want to maintain.
Good talks should have a call to action. You want your audience to do something. Make sure you’ve resolved any tension. Give them a sense of resolution from the dark night of the soul. Then, give your audience something specific to do.
It might be to take a step forward on their journey, but be specific about it.
You’d be surprised at how ambiguity keeps people from taking action. Giving people a specific tool makes them much more likely to act on it. End on a high note that shows them how their world will be better if they act on what they’ve learned from you.
Ending on a high note and an action point goes back to that psychological principle of recency. You’re being purposeful about ensuring that you have given an audience a reason to take the step you’ve asked them to take. Only by showing them the outcome of taking the step will they actually take it.
Thomas: Calling people to act is calling them to take courage. It may be scary for them because no one wants to change. Taking action, making a difference, and doing something different is painful and difficult.
Change implies accepting an uncomfortable truth: The way I was doing it wasn’t the best way. In a sense, your speech is a call to repentance. You’re asking them to change their thinking and action. It might not be religious-conversion level repentance, but it may still be difficult.
Maybe you’re calling people to forgive and let go of the unforgiveness, not because the offender earned it but because Jesus told you to and you’re being obedient.
That’s uncomfortable. But if that’s your topic, you must be courageous, take a stand, and call people to action, even though they may not want to hear it.
You’re not there to tickle their ears. You’re there to bless them. Sometimes, the way to bless the king (as John the Baptist did) is to tell him he’s a sinner, even though he can have you executed.
Kirsten: We want them to lay aside the old. The value of the new has to be made clear throughout the talk.
What resources are available for authors who want to take their speaking to the next level?
Thomas: What resources do you have for authors who want more help?
Kirsten: First, I want to commend writers for wanting to be spokespeople for their books and ideas and for wanting to do it well. I’m so thrilled to see people invest time and energy into it. I have the following resources that writers will find helpful:
- Why you should watch your speaking footage
- Footage evaluation rubric
- My website
- Workshops and free support
- Online course for Christian speakers
- Waitlist for group coaching/live course for Christian speakers
Any final tips or encouragement?
Kirsten: Believe that the message God has given you is worthwhile. I know you already know that because you’ve invested the blood, sweat, and tears in writing, rewriting, editing, and promoting. I want you to also recognize that speaking is another tool that, even if it’s scary, will help you get out and share your message with the world.
So even if you feel afraid of speaking, in service of your message and in service of the God who endowed you with that message, take the risk. It’s worth it.
Obscure No More is the cookbook and a pantry of ingredients that will help you build a platform. It will help you pick an approach (the recipe) that will work for you. It will also give you the ingredients you need to implement that approach.
You won’t need to implement every approach in this course to build a platform, but everything you need to build a platform will be in Obscure No More.
In this course, you will learn how to:
- Develop a brand that fits you and resonates with readers.
- Grow an email list of subscribers ready to buy your book.
- Spend less time marketing by playing to your strengths and avoiding time-wasting marketing myths.
- Craft blog posts readers will want to share with their friends and family.
- Build an author website that ranks high on Google and your books.
- Start your own podcast that builds a connection with your readers.
- Go on a media tour of radio, TV, and podcasts.
- Speak from the stage about your book.
- And more!
Obscure No More also includes live office hours where I answer your questions and a 24/7 online community where you can connect with other Obscure No More authors.
Learn more at ObscureNoMore.com.
Teresa Ann Peter, is writing a series of picture books to answer the questions “What is life like in a Christian household?” and “What do Christians do?” Come visit Petey and Sadie, and see what happens in their family as they all learn to follow Jesus in their daily lives.
- How To Sell A Ton More Books With Public Speaking
- How to Get Better at Public Speaking with Jane Jenkins Herlong
- How to Sell Your Book In Person (and make way more money per copy)
- How to Get Your First Speaking Gigs
You can listen to this episode From Page to Stage: How To Adapt Your Writing Into a Captivating Speech With Kirsten Holmberg on Christian Publishing Show.