Public Speaking Tips for Authors: Interview with Nancy Buffington

Public Speaking Tips

This is a guest post from Stacy Ennis. Stacy is a book and magazine editor, writer, book coach, and speaker, as well as the author of The Editor’s Eye: A Practical Guide to Transforming Your Book from Good to Great. She works with a wide range of clients, from celebrities and corporate clients to independent authors and small book presses and also ghostwrites magazine articles, web content, and books, often reaching national and international audiences.

Public speaking and writing seem opposite of one another, yet both are necessary to become a successful author. Nancy Buffington is a public speaking coach who helps authors improve their presence in front of audiences. Here is an interview with Nancy.

Stacy: Why are public speaking skills important for authors?

Nancy: These days, you can’t afford to be a shy, retiring writer scribbling in the attic. Just to get published, you need to show that you’re willing and more than able to pull off signings, readings, radio and TV interviews. Basically, to be a successful author these days, you need to play a central part on your publicity team.

Stacy: Are there any shared qualities between being a good writer and a good speaker?

Nancy: In both cases, you’re trying to connect with an audience—but when you’re writing, you don’t actually see that audience in front of you. Speaking can make you a much better writer—you get instant feedback from a range of real, live audience members, and you have to be clear (no chance for a live audience to thumb back a few pages if they get lost). Likewise, writing well can make you a better speaker, with a clearer sense of purpose, ideas explored in depth, vivid storytelling, and a structure that really works.

Stacy: What are some common challenges authors face when it comes to public speaking?

Nancy: Lack of confidence. Many (but not all) authors are quiet, reflective types who are uncomfortable in the limelight.

Lack of speaking training. Even in college, you usually only have one required speech class, and it’s easy to make your way without developing your speaking skills.

Lack of specific training. Public speaking for authors is a very specific set of skills, and there just aren’t that many resources out there in this area.

Stacy: Are there any tips or tricks to improve one’s “presence” in front of a crowd?

Nancy: Think of your audience as your readers—they are!

Think of yourself as an extension of your book—an embodiment of it. You might think about how you create a character when you write. Then describe yourself similarly, in third person if that helps. Think about how to “become” and “be” that character in every public interaction you have. It’s still you—but a particular version of yourself.

Relax. Breathe deeply. Smile. And if you need to, promise yourself a stiff drink when it’s over.

Wear something that makes you happy. And comfortable.

Stacy: Can you share any tips for authors who have upcoming readings?

Nancy: Some nuts and bolts for readings:

  • Rehearse for a reading—mark up your text like an actor, with pauses, inflections, asides all worked out in advance.
  • Visit the space ahead of time.
  • Establish rapport with your audience.
  • Adapt to the situation and the audience, every time.
  • Hold your book so you can see everyone’s face—then they can see you, too.
  • Introduce your book/section, characters etc. to set up passages you read.
  • Be human!
  • Bring a nice pen to sign books with.
  • Leave good time for Q & A—and be generous with your responses.
  • Be gracious and happy about posing for pictures with your readers.



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