Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Presenting Your Work

Does the idea of reading your work in front of an audience terrify you?

We’ve been discussing the subject of presenting your work on the Children’s Book Hub this month, and if you answered yes to the above question, you’re not alone.  Many writers are drawn to writing because it’s something we can do alone, behind closed doors – in our pajamas, so to speak. It’s a solitary business, and we like it that way. But the truth is, if you’re a published author, you will be expected to read from your work publically from time to time.

Here are just a few of the places you may be asked to present your work:

– Interviews (especially TV, radio and web)
– School visits
– Book signings
– Library “author events”
– Publishing sales group events
– Writers’ workshops
– Conferences and book fairs

Below are five common mistakes writers make when presenting their work in front of an audience. By simply becoming aware of them, you can take the first step toward presenting your work with greater ease and authority…

  1. Assuming that because you wrote it, you know it well enough to read cold – You’d be surprised how often writers make this mistake. Rehearsing, out loud and often, is the best way to ensure a smooth and successful read.
  2. Reading too fast – Another very common mistake. Slow down! Let your thoughts and ideas ‘land.’ Give your audience time to hear and visualize what you’re saying.
  3. Hiding the eyes – Cliché, I know, but the eyes really are the windows to the soul, and thus the key to making a connection with an audience. Don’t keep them glued to the page. Look up and out from time to time – make eye contact with someone in the audience and speak to them.  Also, if your hair has a tendency to fall over your eyes, wear it up or style it in such a ways that you don’t have to constantly brush it away with your hand.
  4. Putting on a ‘reading voice’ – I’m not referring to character voices. I’m talking about the sing-song, lilting, lyrical or self important tones writers often ‘put on’ for readings. This actually has the effect of distancing your audience. Another problem is ‘up-talk’ at ends of lines – as if there’s an implicit “right?” or “are you with me?” at the end of your sentence. Give each thought the opportunity to have its full impact by allowing it to end with a vocal ‘period,’ rather than leaning into the next one with an implied comma or question mark.
  5. Diffusing energy and focus – Nervous energy has a way of leaking out.  Shifting feet and fidgety hands often result from trying to manage or expel some of this energy, but the end result is distracting and actually serves to scatter your energy.  A better choice is to ground yourself, feet connected to the earth, and hands relaxed, or anchored to the podium or page.  Focus your energy on the intention behind your words, not the tension in your body.


4 Responses to “5 Mistakes to Avoid When Presenting Your Work”
  1. Beth says:

    Thank you so much for sharing some of the wonderful Hub interview and Q&A here on your blog, Emma! I know this will be helpful to many people.

    I have a question. As a person with a hearing impairment, I know how frustrating it is when one can’t hear the speaker. Therefore, I work hard to ensure that not only do I use microphones (if available) as well as possible, but I also try to project as well as possible (using techniques learned in singing, as well as in my preaching classes in my former life.) Am I in danger of doing the “reading voice” that you warn about? How does one walk that fine line?

  2. Sandie Sing says:

    I remember bringing my class to an author assembly where it bored us to tears. The author had an overhead projector showing zillion photos of her cat (the main character). Seven photos would have been sufficient. She went on and on about her cat’s routines for the day. Then, she showed her cat’s friends.
    My second graders were getting fidgety because kids cannot sit longer than half an hour without being interactive with the presenters.
    There’s an art to being a presenter. Notice the children giving the cue they are bored. No monotone voice…the teachers will fall asleep. Show your enthusiasm and energy!
    Thanks Emma for sharing this wonderful message. 🙂

  3. Eric says:

    After close to 35 school assemblies this past year, the key for my audience, those fidgety TWEENAGERS, is to make sure I’m entertaining them as well. I do use quite the “theater” voice when reading Saltwater Taffy, but when I’m done and move to that dreaded “presentation”…I make sure to use the tools these kids are using. Video. Screen captures and yes…humor. First way to connect with the audience is to let ’em loosen up with laughter. I also have them “making lists” which helps them engage to what we’re talking about. Oh yes, and I always ‘dress down’ to make sure they don’t view me as a teacher or some kind of principal.

  4. Emma says:

    Great comments – thanks Eric!

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