7 tips for writers who want to succeed as public speakers

I spoke recently at World-Changing Writers, an online conference hosted by the publishing guru Alison Jones, about the relationship between writing and speaking, and what writers need to be thinking about if they want to become speakers, and how to find a foothold on the professional speaking circuit.

You can listen to a podcast of our conversastion.

Here are my 7 tips to any writer aspiring to become a professional speaker:

  1. If you can, pick the subject of your next book carefully. Look for a niche and try and own it — with a book, with some journalism and commentary and with a speech. Ideally you pick a topic that is of growing relevance and value to the mainstream.
  2. Though a unique subject helps, it’s hard to break onto the speaker circuit. There are many more speakers out there than paid opportunities. It helps if you are a worldwide best-seller like Niall Ferguson, or if you can pitch yourself from a trusted platform like The Economist. Otherwise, you are going to need to be determined, talented and lucky to break through. When you do commit, do this properly. Take yourself seriously as a speaker: get a photograph of yourself speaking, add a Speaking tab to your website, tweet and facebook clips of yourself speaking, try and get noticed by speakers agencies and event planners. To start, you may experience plenty of rejection. Brace yourself but keep going.
  3. Once you decide to go for it, practice, practice, practice. Literary festivals are obvious places to start, and they should pay you a small fee. But use your friends and family too. Speak at your village hall. Practice your speech to colleagues at work. Practice.
  4. Video is vital. Generate good third party content, ideally of you speaking on a stage in front of a live audience of 50 or less. Your video needs to be authentic — a promotional film commissioned by you won’t impress anyone with a decent budget for hiring speakers.
  5. Be eye-catching. Play with your language and positioning. Think how to differentiate yourself from your competition. Generate great visuals in your book which you can also use as slides in your speech. NB: a surprising number of good speakers use poor visuals. We rate Prezi over PowerPoint. Good visuals also create an opportunity to get noticed on social media, and generate momentum. Hans Rosling is a great example of a speaker whose visuals have made him famous on TED.
  6. Now for the good news: speaking about your book and its themes takes your message into a public space which is dynamic. Ideas which had been contained in your book become shared, and will generate a live response straight back to you. The act of speaking will help you develop your own thinking, and interaction with an audience will test your assumptions. It’s a highly creative process. Many of Chartwell’s clients use speaking as a way of testing their thinking, and brewing their next book idea. They know that if their ideas work in front of a critical audience, they may be on to something.
  7. Now to make you jealous / mad / even more determined: Chartwell once booked a well-known writer to speak at the annual conference hosted by a UK based investment firm. Not only did the firm pay the writer a good fee for his keynote, it also bought 10,000 copies of his new book (hardback) to send to all their clients. Yes, 10,000 copies.

Good luck!

Written by Alex Hickman

Chartwell Speakers & Literary Agency exclusively represents 51 fantastic speakers and authors in culture, politics, technology, economics and history around the world. In addition, we have another 2,000+ experts and motivational speakers on our speaker database — with whom we try and place at clients’ events and conferences across the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Almost all of the speakers we work with have written books.

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