Engage your audience, so to speak


This month’s tip is about setting up speaking engagements. For those of you who are terrified of public speaking, the best way to work through this is to check into your local Toastmasters. Speaking engagements are by far one of the best ways to increase book sales and build your name and reputation. It is well worth the time you invest in it, even if you have to drive a ways to get to a Toastmasters meeting.

Where do you speak? Civic organizations like Lions Club, Rotary, Kiwanis and Knights of Columbus are good places to look. If your book is a Christian book, churches and Bible studies are the best places to look for speaking engagements. If you have a novel, libraries and schools are what you’re looking for. If you have a children’s book, schools and daycares are great places to start. Remember this: When you’re starting out, no place is too small. Until your name and reputation are well established and people are volunteering to pay you to come speak to their group, these places are doing you a favor as much as you are helping them.

The most important part is to turn the speaking engagement into an opportunity to sell books. Notice, however, in the wording below, I don’t say “sell books”. No one wants to talk about selling in a school or church or wherever, even though it happens all the time. No one likes the word “sell”. Everybody likes the word “buy”. If you say what I’ve said below, you won’t turn people off with your words. Unless speaking is part of your everyday business, and you already know how to do this, these tips will be very helpful to you. When you have a captive audience like this, book sales come very naturally.

If your audience is adults, this is easy. When you are making arrangements with the organizer, tell them that you don’t charge a fee. All you ask is that they give you an opportunity to sign books for those who want to buy them.

If your primary audience is children in schools, you need to plan ahead a little more, but it is still not very hard. Still tell the school that you don’t charge a fee; all you ask is that you have an opportunity to sign books for kids who would like to buy them. Tell them you will send them an order form that they can send home with the kids a week before your visit. (You will have to create this order form. You can just make a Word doc.) Say you’ll call them the day before so you know how many books to bring. (You can sign the books ahead of time and personalize them when you’re there.)

We’ve found that securing speaking engagements works on personal connections more than anything else. When we are the first ones to call, we’re viewed with suspicion because they look at us as a company with a product to sell. As a result, our success rate is extremely low. When authors call first, they are more likely to look at you as someone with a story to tell. If that story matches their constituency, you are more likely to have success. Besides, these places always want to know more about the author, and no one knows the author better than the author.

Even still, it takes time to build that personal relationship. Building relationships is one of the things we can’t do for you. Churches are the most particular about this, and it makes perfect sense. Pastors are tasked with protecting their sheep from wolves. Any pastor worth his salt will check you out to make sure you’re not a wolf.

Here is what we’ve learned from authors who have been successful at building relationships with these niche markets:

  • The first step is finding out who the right contact is. Sometimes this is easy, and sometimes it takes time, depending on what kind of gatekeeper they have.
  • The next step is discussing with that contact how your book will help their people. You have to put others first to be successful with spreading your message. You wrote this for a reason; this is the place to tie that reason into the mission of the organization you’re contacting.
  • Only then can you ask if they would be interested in having you come.

Sometimes all of these steps can be accomplished in one phone call. Sometimes it takes months of cultivating a relationship.

You will have a tremendous advantage if you have already planned in advance what your presentation will be. If your book is fiction, you can always talk about creative writing, but don’t limit yourself to that. Your theme has a point that is likely either political, social, spiritual, or scientific. The research you’ve done and the knowledge you have in these areas can be the basis for your speech. You need to be able to tell them in 15 seconds why they need to have you come. That 15-second speech will be the basis for their decision on whether or not to keep talking to you. The best 15-second speech ends with a question they are compelled to say yes to. Examples: “Would your church grow if people were more excited about evangelism?” or “Would the social studies teachers in your school benefit from having a guest speaker teach for 20 minutes of one of their classes?” or “Would you like to see more people come to your library?”

Make sure the question is something you can deliver. Prepare a brochure you can send them that will spell out how you can deliver. (Note: Sending a word doc or PDF by email is free. Printing brochures and mailing them costs a lot of money.) If you can’t secure an event with the first phone call, this is your fall-back objective.

Here’s where we can help: Sometimes you have been building a relationship or have an existing relationship with a speaking venue, and it seems to have stalled out. They haven’t said yes, and they haven’t said no. Keep track of your contacts, and when you get 4 or 5 like this, send me the name of the venue, the address, contact name and their direct line. Include a sentence or two describing your contact with them to date. Also send us your brochure. We’ll call these for you and report back the results. Sometimes, they really do want to hear from the publisher. Sometimes there is something they’re not telling you that they’ll tell us. Sometimes it’s just an issue of bad timing. Sometimes, we’re not able to get ahold of them at all, and the best we can do is leave a message. At any rate, it gives you another reason to follow up.

And don’t forget that we can help publicize your speaking engagements by sending out a press announcement. Email me the name of the venue, the address, the date, the time, and any other critical details, and we’ll alert the press 7-10 days before the event.

Usually, once you get one or two, it gets a lot easier to get others. It can feel like a lot of hard, fruitless work, but then when something pops, all that work bears fruit. Make sure you always ask for referrals after a successful event. This is as simple as asking, “What other (teachers, pastors, ministry leaders, organizations) do you know of that would benefit from this?” People who you’ve helped will be eager to help you help others.

The bottom line in all of this is helping others. I’ve heard it said that the best way to get what you want is to help others get what they want. A wise old Hebrew fisherman once put it this way, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6, NIV)

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1 Comment

Filed under Reputation building

One response to “Engage your audience, so to speak

  1. Pingback: The Best Way to Sell Your Book Is Not to Sell Your Book | After the Ink Dries

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