Book Talks: What to Say and How to Say It


Great! The Chamber of Commerce, or a similar group, has asked you to talk about your latest book. Though words are your business, you may be terrified of public speaking. What should you say? How should you say it? These tips will help you to give a five-star book talk.

Confirm arrangements. Mistakes happen and you don’t want them to happen to you. One or two days before you’re slated to speak, confirm the date, time, place, and your audiovisual needs. Toastmaster’s International says you should visit the site beforehand. Make sure books will be available if you’re autographing after your talk.

Greet the audience. Arrive early and greet audience members as they enter the room or store. This gives you an instant connection with your audience and makes you an approachable person.

Check the audience. According to the Advanced Public Speaking Institute, males and females respond differently to talks. Females laugh more easily than males and “an all-male audience is more critical to bond [with] . . . especially if you’re a female speaker.” Be prepared to make some last minute changes in your talk if you are female.

Say thank you. Audience members have taken the time to come and hear you, so thank them for coming. Your thank you doesn’t have to be long, but it does need to be sincere. Thank the person who invited you and other contact people.

Keep your intro short. Eager as they may be to hear you, audience members don’t want to listen to a long lead-in, or what a friend of mine calls the “When grandpa headed West in 1935″ introduction. (He’s very droll.) Get the audience’s attention and cut to the chase – the body of your talk.

Make points clear. Speech writers tell their clients to start by “telling them what you’re going to tell them.” You need to do the same. State the purpose of your talk and summarize your book in one sentence. (This is harder than it sounds.) As you speak you may wish to number your key points.

Cite benefits. Though they may not say it aloud, every audience member is asking, “Why should I buy your book?” You should be able to answer this question quickly and clearly. Refer to your book by title, not “the book” and repeat the title several times.

Tell stories. The audience won’t remember statistics, but they will remember stories. Tell stories about being a writer or stories from your book. Keep in mind that story-telling isn’t the same as joke-telling. If you’re good at telling jokes include them in your talk. Avoid jokes if you can’t remember punch lines.

Keep their attention. The Advanced Public Speaking Institute says you should use an “attention gaining device” every two-to-four minutes. These devices include things like movement, showing a prop, distributing handouts, and delivering one-liners. You may also have a Power Point presentation that goes with your book.

Have a strong ending. You want the audience to remember you and your book. So tell a touching story, or ask the audience to take action, or whisper your last line for impact. A change in approach can also be a strong ending. If you’re giving a talk about a serious subject, for example, you could close on a humorous note.

Remember, the audience thinks of your book talk as entertainment.

Eddie Albert, the famous Hollywood actor, was a friend of my father-in-law’s. I met Eddie several times and he called me once to thank me for a book I’d sent him. During our conversation Eddie said he was giving a talk about conservation that afternoon. The talk was finished, Eddie said, but he was still working on the entertainment aspect. “You have to entertain to educate,” he commented. Good advice for us all.

By Harriet Hodgson

Copyright 2005 by Harriet Hodgson.  All rights reserved.

Harriet Hodgson has been a nonfiction writer for 27 years and is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists. Her latest book, Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief, written with Lois Krahn, MD, is available on To learn more about her work go to

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