The ins and outs & ups and downs of public speaking

The ins and outs & ups and downs of public speaking

I’ve been combing through old blog posts, preparing for The Big Read in San Miguel de Allende of The Shadow Queen this coming January. For one, I need to have my website in order, especially the posts that relate to that novel. I also need to refresh myself on the process I went through in writing it. It has been a moving exercise.

Annual San Miguel Big Read – San Miguel Literary Sala

As soon as this is done, I will need to begin crafting my keynote speech. February will be upon me in no time. It seemed appropriate that in combing through my website I happened upon an interview I gave on Jane Friedman’s blog some time ago. In response to Kristen Tsetsi‘s question on public speaking, I outlined my process. I share it here — with some additional stories of things I’ve learned since.

Archive of Author Events | Sandra Gulland

Q: A reading, you’ve said, is more like a talk, an opportunity for the author to engage with the audience. What five pieces of advice would you give authors about to deliver their first reading/talk?

Most writers are introverts and find public speaking daunting. Take heart! Introverts are, as a rule, excellent public speakers, but only because they prepare like crazy.

Here is my process …

Write the talk: every word of it

Put a lot of time into writing a good talk. Write out every word of your presentation. Aim for only about five to ten minutes of reading, and the rest of it talk, leaving time for about fifteen minutes of Q&A at the end. Type the sections of your book you plan to read into your speech.

In general, people love to laugh, and self-deprecating humor goes over well. Remember that you are there to entertain. Readers enjoy personal accounts about the process of creation.

People like to be participants, so ask questions: engage the audience.

Prepare a few funny questions to suggest at the end, should your audience be shy to speak up during the Q&A.

Your entire talk/reading should be about thirty to forty minutes.

Read the talk out loud: every word of it

Read your talk out loud slowly. Edit the passages you are going to read from your book to make them easy for you to read, as well as easy for listeners to understand. Change words you find difficult to pronounce or stumble over. Think of this as theater. A passage read out loud comes across differently from a passage one reads to oneself silently, so adjustments must be made.

Print the talk out in big bold type

Convert your talk to large bold print, and break each paragraph into sentences. Print out your talk and assemble it in a binder. Dog-ear each page so that the pages are easy to turn.

(I wrote about my speaking process in a blog post here, “Finding focus.”)

Rehearse the talk, over and over

A natural, relaxed presentation is achieved with lots of preparation. A few days before your talk, read in front of a mirror, sweeping up from the page with each sentence to meet your own eyes. The day of the talk, do this two or three times. (A caution about going hoarse, however!)

Slow down as you read—don’t race through it.

Try on what you’re planning to wear—is it comfortable? Do you feel good in it? Do you feel like yourself?

Prepare to present the talk … and to expect glitches

Getting comfortable with public speaking comes with practice.

Never Be Nervous Again Audiobook by Dorothy Sarnoff ...

When I was first published, I read and was greatly helped by Never be Nervous Again by Dorothy Sarnoff, who advises speakers to think of the following mantra before a talk: “I’m glad I’m here, I’m glad you’re here, and I know what I know.” Try it! Don’t dread a crowd; embrace it. (I highly recommend this book.)

The most important rule-of-thumb: enjoy yourself — but most of all enjoy the people who have made an effort to come see you …

… including the snoring fan slumped in the front row.

This happens! For amusing stories from actors, read this. (Confession: I’ve once or twice been that snoozing person in the audience myself. When the eyelids start to droop, it can’t be helped!)

I’ve learned that giving out door prizes throughout a talk is not only fun — Who doesn’t love a door prize? — but keeps everyone on their toes.

Find out what the venue is going to be like. Ask for a mike if the group is going to be large. This will allow you to have a more emotional range in your reading. I like to be able to dramatically whisper, for example.

If you plan to give a visual presentation (such as Powerpoint), expect that there will be glitches with the equipment. In my experience, this never fails to happen, and sometimes too with mikes. I’ve learned to bring my own computer, portable projector and cables just in case. If only there was a portable mike one could have on hand, as well.

Plan what you will do in case only one or two people show up. Offer to go to a cafe for a one-on-one chat, for example. Consider this your rite of passage: every author goes through it.

Some of my most memorable talks have been to very small and intimate groups.

author readings Archives | Sandra Gulland

There will be disasters: these will make good stories. Eventually. One of mine was a live TV interview, called an “open-ender” because I was in one city and the interviewer was in another. I could hear his questions through the ear bud in my right ear. And then it fell out and I couldn’t hear a thing. I was filmed scrambling on the floor trying to find it.

I laugh about it now. One wonderful thing about being a writer is that everything is potential material, nothing is wasted.

What public speaking adventures/misadventures have you experienced, either as a speaker or someone in the audience?

Finding focus

Finding focus

I’ve been visually challenged this summer. Two cataract surgeries have made reading difficult. That’s a problem for a writer! For a time I felt like Mr. Magoo.

Having worn glasses for over 50 years, it felt strange not to be wearing them. Plus, there was this thing called vanity: frankly, I look better in glasses. I had a reading/speech on The Game of Hope to give to a fairly large crowd, so (confession) I ordered plain $15 frames on Amazon, just for the “look” of them.

Ah, that was better! I felt more like myself.

I  printed out my reading in a large font so that I could read it and highlighted dialogue.

(I bend the corners of the pages to make them easier to turn.)

As a visually challenged writer, I’ve been exploring using dictation when writing on a computer. I’m doing this now, in fact. Que padre!

Fortunately (or not), I’m not the sort of person to throw things out, so I went through a drawer of old eyeglasses and found a pair that made light reading and computer work more manageable.

Even so, reading is a strain, so I’ve been “reading” audible editions like crazy — and loving them. I will be putting up a post about a number of outstanding titles soon.

All in all, these adjustments have led to interesting discoveries. Colors are so much more vivid now. The blues! I might feel like Mr. Magoo when it comes to reading, but I’m more like Alice in Wonderland in this beautiful, many-hued world.

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A wonderful audible edition of The Game of Hope

A wonderful audible edition of The Game of Hope

I’m writing this in Toronto, a long way from home. Tomorrow I have a full schedule of two interviews, a book store signing, and then, in the evening, a book launch of The Game of Hope.

I sent off the final corrections to The Game of Hope last October, and since then I’ve been researching and outlining my next YA novel about a young falconer in Elizabethan England. There are no raptors in The Game of Hope, so I thought it time to reacquaint myself fully with Hortense’s world before having to answer questions about it.

audible edition of The Game of Hope by Sandra Gulland

Fortunately, I was able to download the audio edition of The Game of Hope this morning, and on the long drive down to Toronto today, I listened to it. And was charmed! Say hey! I think it’s quite a good story, and the narration by Janick Hebert is simply delightful.

Canadians can now get the audio edition of The Game of Hope on Audible, Kobo, Google Play or on Overdrive through your public library. On June 23, it will be available in the US.

I sincerely recommend it!


Anyone else out there still warmed by the glow of Harry and Megan? I have been!

This is my favorite photo of the pair in the open carriage. (It was snapped by Yui Mok, a photographer based in the UK, as their carriage went under an overpass.)


I initially intended to write this blog about an interesting article about writing historical fiction. However, “The Tourist, the Expat and the Native: A Traveler’s Approach to Crafting Historical Fiction,” by Mary Volmer deserves more than a passing reference. More on that anon…

For now, Hortense is about to meet the man she loves, and — frankly! — I’m curious to hear what happens!


Toronto photo by Sidra Saeed on Unsplash.

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What are you crushing on?

What are you crushing on?

I’ve become very fond of a podcast about Young Adult lit called Kidlit Drink Night. They always make me laugh and I end up making lots of notes about books, movies and TV series to look into. They call themselves “Superfriends,” which is sweet. There is a lot of laughing. They share a love of YA Lit, and an often bizarre drink for the night, which is not always met with approval. :-) They end their once-a-month sessions with the question, “What are you crushing on?” I love that.

So: What am I crushing on right now? (Other than the Kidlit Drink Night podcast.)

So: what are you crushing on? 

Bed-bound promo, website craziness, and Scrivener awe

Bed-bound promo, website craziness, and Scrivener awe

I’ve been bed-bound for over a week since a minor knee operation to repair a meniscus issue. I’m not going to whine about it! In fact, I’ve discovered that I’m the perfect candidate for this type of life.

On the bed beside me are:

  • my Mac Air;
  • my Levenger notebook (calendar etc.);
  • a Circa notebook fat with my To Do lists;
  • another notebook (a Semikolon Mucho Spiral Notebook for the stationery curious), where I’m thinking through The Next Novel;
  • a three-ring binder for scene sheets (@ Story Genius), which I’m really using as a support for my mouse pad and mouse);
  • my Kindle;
  • an iPad;
  • and a stack of magazines (The New Yorker, Real Simple, and Bookmarks).

Beside the bed is my walker (required for just a little longer!), a water bottle, clock, and iPhone. Moisturizer, lipstick, post-its, pencil, pen, pills. Snacks, tissue. Basic clutter.

Everything I need, in short, right where I can reach it. The only problem with this rat’s-nest life is that I can’t climb stairs (yet), can’t get up to my office.

But for now, I’m making great use of this time.

Website renovation

With every publication, a writer needs to update his/her website with information about the new book, a new media kit, author events, and a new author portrait throughout.

I didn’t have time to get an author portrait taken this year (I tried a selfie, with poor results), so I’ve used one James Brylowski took of me five years ago.

“Problem is, books are written slowly, and aging happens all of a sudden.” — from a wonderful article: The Agony and the Ecstasy of taking Author Photos.)

Having neglected my website for years, I discovered a number of problems. Fortunately, I was able to find a great website person through Fiverr.com who is helping me. We have quite a bit to do yet.

(Frankly, I don’t know how authors who publish a book a year manage.)

An important part of getting my website more reader-worthy was setting up my Media page. Following the directions of Tim Grahl (see below), I learned to code my Media page so that high-definition images would be automatically downloaded with just a click. I’m fairly stoked that I was able to do this.

Also, on Fiverr.com, I found someone to turn the book cover of The Game of Hope into a 3D image (see above). For $5!

Easy Outreach with Tim Grahl

When it comes to marketing, I’m a fan of Tim Grahl, He’s experienced, down-to-earth and realistic. I’ve taken a few of his online courses, and they’ve always been worthwhile. Right now I’m following a new one he’s testing out, “Easy Outreach.” Basically, it’s about how to get interviewed on podcasts, but the detailed system he outlines would apply to any outreach: to blogs, vlogs, or podcasts, etc.

An important part of the process is to identify suitable podcasts and to study them before making a pitch. (I’ve discovered a number of wonderful podcasts in the process.) I’m kind of excited about putting this into practice. I ordered a USB Yeti mike, and already have one podcast interview scheduled for the fall.

I’m ready! Who knows where this might lead?

Finally learning Scrivener

I’ve promised myself that I would write The Next Novel on Scrivener. I’ve taken stabs at learning it before, but I’ve always ended up confused and frustrated. It’s a complex programme! I was on the verge of giving up when I came upon a Udemy Scrivener 3 course for Mac. It had excellent reviews so I went for it. It’s been fantastic. I have questions almost every day, and the teacher responds to every one. I take it bit by bit, and immediately apply what I’ve learned, so hopefully it will stick. I’m finally understanding why so many writers love it.

Additionally, I’ve been developing my next novel following the guidelines in Story Genius by Lisa Cron. Puzzling over how to get Cron’s scene card templates into my Scrivener project, I Googled “Story Genius Scrivener” and found a wonderful article by Gwen Hernandez on WriterUnboxed: Using Scrivener with Story Genius. Bingo! She even included a downloadable Scrivener template with scene card templates (and much more).

Watching movies, reading and listening to books and reading magazines …

And then, of course, there have been wonderful movies to watch: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Call Me by Your Name; and, last night, Lady Bird. All were simply great. Of the three, I found Call Me by Your Name the most enchanting, swooningly European.

And then, of course, books, books, books! In addition to books on writing, I’m reading The Burning Girl by Claire Messud and listening, on Audible, to an amazing performance of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

A hard life, eh?

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Publication day!

Publication day!

A friend just emailed: Is it as exciting as the first time? 

Although there is nothing quite like the first time, I woke up this morning and thought, with a big grin, PUB DAY!

credit ChristArt.com

It’s such a miraculous thing!

I’m still in Mexico, so I can’t see it in bookstores in Canada and the U.S. If you see it, send me a photo (sgulland AT sandragulland DOT com) and I’ll post it here.

Here is the link to the newsletter I sent out yesterday: http://bit.ly/NewsletterApr72014

I’ve emailed the winner of THE SHADOW QUEEN (always fun).

Reviews—even brief ones—on Goodreads, Amazon.com or Amazon.ca are so very much appreciated now. If you’re not ready to review, give a “thumbs up” to a review you like.

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And, as well, all that usual Social Media stuff: thumbs up, likes, re-tweets and tweets! It’s a noisy type of day.

But most of all, I hope you buy THE SHADOW QUEEN, or get it out of the library, or borrow it from a friend. In short: I hope you read it. And if you love Claudette and her eccentric tribe, chat it up. Word-of-mouth is still the most powerful promotion there is.