I won’t lie – I LOVE doing author talks. Since my book was published in April 2018 I’ve delivered many talks and interviews.

Clearly I’m not a proper writer though,  because apparently real writers are meant to be all shy and introverted. Sorry, but nope. EM’s story is interesting and important and I’m very happy to tell it over and over again.

However. I have been loath to blog about my speaking adventures and I think I know why. Giving an author talk is so much fun that I fear boring you to death with my enthusiasm. Also, there’s really not too much difference between one talk and the next – not in terms of content, anyway. The fun, for me, lies in meeting new people and going to new places.

Sometimes at an event I’m interviewed by another person.  But my strong preference is to simply be let loose for an hour or so to do my talk. That’s because I can speak about EM for an hour without notes and tell an engaging, compelling story. I’m bragging, I suppose, but it’s true. I’m a bloody good public speaker. I regularly have audience members tell me during question time that they didn’t want my talk to end.

So, with all due immodesty, here are some highlights of my speaking career. Skip over this bit, if you like, if you’d rather read about the lessons learned along the way.

– On ABC Radio I’ve been interviewed (among others) by James Valentine. And Geraldine Doogue.  Not at the same time. In both cases I managed not to swoon.

– I was on a panel with Henry Reynolds, Marcia Langton and Robert Manne. Yes, it was tricky to get a word in edgeways. No, I didn’t mind at all!

– My smallest audience for a scheduled author talk was three. And the eldest of them kept falling asleep. I did my spiel and still managed to have a great time.

– I was flown interstate to attend a regional writers festival where all authors are billeted overnight at accommodation provided by volunteers. Yes, of course I was nervous. But my billet was with a beautiful, elderly couple called Brian and David and I couldn’t have enjoyed my stay more – they were just wonderful. They fed me, took me to see some sights, and made space for me in their gorgeous architect designed home with a fabulous view. Unforgettable.

– I gave a talk to the Probus group to which my late mother used to belong. The group met in the church hall where I spent much time as a child, and there were several familiar faces in the crowd. Very poignant.

– I gave a talk at my parents-in-law’s retirement village. I sold and signed books afterwards, and chatted with many people. A year or so later, at the funeral of one of the women who attended my talk, I was mentioned in her eulogy. Apparently she had loved my book, and it had meant the world to her to be able to meet ‘a real author’. This was a woman I’d not met before my talk, or subsequently. I’m not crying, you are.

– My kids constantly hear that I’m big in clubs. That, in fact, I’m quite the clubber. And it’s true. Lyceum Club, Alexandra Club, Queens Club, Australian Club – you name the exclusive, members-only enclave and I’ve probably spoken there. The canapes are very nice…

– I spoke at the State Library of NSW, in an event with Bri Lee and Dr Larissa Behrendt. That was a thrill – and a genuine honour. Dr Behrendt is every bit as lovely as she is eminent.

– I was the moderator for a panel at the 2019 Clunes Booktown event. The Clunes Booktown event is awesome. Moderating is really hard.

So after all those talks, here is what I’ve learnt.

Radio interviews are fun. I’m not a politician – there are no ‘gotcha’ questions. Instead the interviewer invariably has a vested interested in drawing out the story, so makes it very easy. And given the time constraints, radio interviews are usually over with pretty quickly.

The maximum number of people on a panel at a writers festival or event should be three plus the interviewer. Two plus the interviewer is better. Otherwise no-one has enough time to say anything meaningful and it’s very hard (in the limited time available) for the participants to engage with one another and have a conversation. All that happens is that the interviewer asks each person a question in turn. Let’s break it down:

  • Total session time: 50 minutes
  • Introduction: 5 minutes:
  • Questions at the end: 5 minutes
  • Leaves only 10 minutes speaking time per panellist, less the time taken by the interviewer to ask the question. That’s not enough time, people!

At live events, having an interviewer and an author only works when the interviewer has done their homework and asks good, short questions designed to draw out the author’s expertise. This happens less often than you might hope.

The Australian Society of Authors (ASA) lists recommended fees for author appearances. I have been paid the relevant ASA rate approximately once (by a library). Every other time I’ve been paid less, or not at all. Still, that’s my choice.

Finally, I guess my key message to emerging writers is this: public speaking might not be as hard or as terrible as you fear. If you get the chance, say yes. You might be pleasantly surprised.

So tell me – when you go to hear a writer speak, what makes a great talk from your point of view?