Tuesday, July 19, 2011

5 Tips for a Successful Author Presentation

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.

[caption id="attachment_687" align="aligncenter" width="336" caption="Me with 2 of my visual aids: Raggedy Ann & Raggedy Chan"][/caption]

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.

[caption id="attachment_688" align="aligncenter" width="336" caption="Vanna White (aka my mom) holding up a laminated illustration of Raggedy Chan and the Pern-yi Caterpillar"][/caption]

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.


  1. Hello,

    Thanks so much for this great article and the tips. I'm fairly new to this field, working on my third book in my children's mystery series. My books are aimed at children in the 9 to 15 age group, depending on interest and reading ability.

    I received a call this morning that a nearby school is interested in having me come in and speak to some students. I don't have the details yet, but I'm assuming they will want a presentation or a question & answer session, or both. Other than some printed material like small posters and bookmarks, do you have any suggestions on what to give the students?

    What is your opinion of including a note to the students telling them to check my website for details on how to win a free copy of one of my books? I'm considering a brief series of questions on the first book, with the first accurate entry winning a free copy of the second book.

    I am assuming this correspondence is between us and not to be posted for others to read. Hope I'm correct.

    Thanks again,

  2. Hi Hays,

    Thanks for visiting my blog! Your post will appear in the comments portion of the blog. If that's not okay, let me know and I will delete it. I hope you'll consider letting me leave it up, as I think other writers may find your questions helpful.

    To answer your questions . . .

    What to give to students -- Bookmarks are the easiest and the best, I think. I have also given out coloring pages for Raggedy Chan, depending on the age of the students. The thing to keep in mind is your timing. I never hand out things until the end of the presentation. The more kids have in their hands, the less likely they are to pay attention to you. Handing out the bookmarks during the presentation as prizes for quiz questions is a GREAT way to keep them on their toes and listening to you. The posters I use are displayed on a stand up high so all kids can see them.

    Directing students to a website for a free book post-presentation -- I have never tried this myself, but my gut response is that I don't think this will gain you much exposure. I think you would do much better to hold some sort to contest or raffle while you are at the school and present an autographed book to the winning student. All the other kids will want to take a look at the book ASAP. I think this will get your book a lot more attention than a URL they will likely forget about before the end of the day. But, that doesn't mean you can't try it! These are just my thoughts. I just know that most kids have pretty short attention spans. I always try to keep my presentations under 30 minutes. Any more than that, and they start getting bored.

    Let me know if you have any other presentation questions. I am happy to help!