Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Writers are Speakers - 7 Ways to Destroy Your Speaking Career

by Lucinda Secrest McDowell @LucindaSMcDowell

Writers are often asked to speak. 

Whether you are a writer-who-speaks or speaker-who-writes, it is always important to keep some basic principles in mind as you venture out to various events. 

Remember, that your speaking can enhance your writing career. So, be on the lookout for these 7 mistakes you don’t want to make.

1. Be hard to contact.
In this day of social media, internet and cell phones attached to the hip, it would seem impossible that we are ever truly ‘hard to contact.’ But you would be amazed at the event planners who complain their emails or phone messages are never returned. Unfortunately, this gives the impression of an aloof writer who is not interested in speaking, or worse, a diva. Thus, be sure to be clear on your website, business cards, etc. how others are to contact you. If it is directly, make a point of answering in a prompt fashion (even if it’s just “I’m out of town this weekend, but will respond next week when I return to the office.”) If you are using an assistant, be firm about the turnaround timing of inquiries and how she should answer them. Remember, this is your first point of personal contact and you want to make a good impression – this is your audience!

Don't use the same talk for every event!
2. Use the same talk for every event.
Yes, you may have a sensational story, or a particular ‘brand,’ or a latest book that you want to push, but it is vitally important that you tailor each presentation specifically to the audience of that event. Knowing to whom you are speaking (college students or senior citizens? secular audience or church group? professional experts in your field or a neighborhood book club?) makes all the difference in which illustrations to use, and how to tailor your talk. It is quite helpful to have a ‘repertoire’ of subjects available online to get organizers primed, but even then, each presentation must be updated and tweaked.

3. Make unreasonable demands.
While it is true that honorariums, travel expenses, book sales and informal gatherings greatly vary for author/speakers depending on the group, geographic location, and nature of event, common courtesy and manners are universal. It is up to you to always be professional, yet kind and flexible as logistics are discussed. Event planners will not invite back a speaker who was high maintenance. And yes, they do talk to one another… Plus, if you are a follower of Christ, then you should also have a servant’s spirit in bringing the message and interfacing with the people who attend.

4. Read your manuscript.
Please don’t. However, do make sure you have notes or an outline. Some speakers prefer to have a word-by-word manuscript handy, but it is imperative not to read each word. Just highlight the main points and then memorize all of your stories and illustrations. Better yet, speak without notes! Of course, the only way this will happen is if you know your material, which comes from practice, practice, practice. Did anyone ever say speaking was easy? Don’t forget to polish your opening (this must grab your audience from the get-go) and to craft your closing so that there is a definite takeaway. The more you learn your material, the more natural you will be in presenting it. Be yourself and you will engage your listeners, not bore them.

Don't ramble on and on with no focus!
5. Ramble on and on with no focus.
Know what you are going to say. Say it. Then remind your audience of what you said. This is a simplistic, yet proven formula. Outlines are your friend. Make sure you know the most important takeaway you are aiming for, and then deliberately make that point, supporting it with research and anecdotes. Tell stories but make sure each story has a purpose to it and that it is clear. As mentioned earlier, spend time on a fabulous opening and closing. Always finish in the time frame you were given by the event organizer. Reconfirm the length at the event and if it has been shortened (yes, this happens from time to time), leave out a few illustrations. They will remember you and invite you back.

6. Keep your distance from your audience.
Whether you are at a weekend conference or a one night banquet, you can make more friends by engaging your audience both before and after you speak. I often ‘work the room’ ahead of time, meeting people and asking questions. I introduce myself and many don’t even realize I’m the keynote speaker until I later take the platform. By then they are my ‘friends’ and eager to hear what I have to say. After speaking, I am totally accessible back at my booktable, not just to sign/sell books but to listen, pray or take photos. As a guest speaker, the entire event is your contracted service, not just the time behind the podium. Of course, during a weekend conference, I do have times away in my room to regroup. Even if you are an introvert, make an effort to engage with your audience.

7. Never look back.
I always mail (yes, US Postal Service) a thank you note on my professional stationery to the event organizer within a week or two of my return from speaking. After that, I also contact them by email and ask for a few sentences of recommendation that I can post on my website “Endorsements” page. Sometimes they will respond to that and sometimes they don’t.. When I post their comments on my website, I send them a thank you email and a link to their comment and sometimes a photo of me with the group or the team. Each Christmas I send a card and news update to each of the places I have spoken that year. Now, if this seems like a bit of work, it is. But never burn your bridges. Be thankful for the opportunity to share your message with an audience, and tell them so.

As we seek to become the best communicators possible, God is the One who will open and close doors, gently guiding us into avenues of influence. Let’s make sure that we honor Him always as we journey forth.

“Your authenticity does not depend on proving to people or to God with pitches, paints or pen – that you really are quite a piece of work. Rather, I pray that you are discovering that your authenticity lies in who you are constantly becoming in Christ, and that you make art because you cannot keep yourself from the simple joy of shaping something as best you can and then pouring it over Jesus’ feet. The only reason for doing our very best, despite any cost, is the infinite worth of Jesus, for making art this way is where authenticity lies… The best artists begin by being influenced and end up influencing.” 
                                        – quoted by Michael Card in “Scribbling in the Sand”


Lucinda Secrest McDowell, M.T.S., is the author of 11 books, contributing author to 25 books, and has published in more than 50 magazines. A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Furman University, she studied at the Wheaton Graduate School of Communication and served as Communications Specialist for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (Thailand) and Editor for Billy Graham’s International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists (Netherlands). A member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA), she has received “Writer of the Year” awards from both Mt. Hermon and Blue Ridge Writers Conferences. Cindy speaks internationally through her ministry “Encouraging Words” and co-directs the New England Christian Writers Retreat. Known for her ability to convey deep truth in practical and winsome ways, she writes from “Sunnyside” cottage in New England. Visit her online at www.EncouragingWords.net 


  1. Cindy, I learned so much by watching you at the New England Christian Writers retreat. You practice every one of these points. I admire your accessibility, leadership and love for Jesus. Thank you.
    I I enjoy making friends before I speak. I never tell them I am the speaker. At my last event I arrived early and became friends with a wonderful lady. We laughed, cried and prayed together. When she found out that I was the speaker she said, "Oh my, I would not have talked to you if I knew you were the speaker, I am so glad I did not know." It was a great lesson for both of us.
    Thank you again for sharing. I have been praying for you as you write your book this summer.

  2. Thanks for your kind and encouraging words, Cherrilyn. Obviously, I do not always do this perfectly. As I wrote the article I wondered if someone would comment by reminding me of a time I committed one of these 7 mistakes. So thankful there is enough grace to go around. And thanks for prayers for the manuscript...

  3. Great list, Cindy. Gotta share this with my writing/speaking friends!

    1. Thanks Vonda! This means so much because you know you are one of my speaking/writing heroes...

  4. Power pack advice, Cindy. Meeting and greeting audience members before a talk, presentation or teaching session sets a friendly tone before the event. Sending personal thank you cards a few days after an event is a great encourager for the event planner and gives them a tangible gift of appreciation they can keep to read on discouraging days.

    Speak on!

    1. Thanks Carolyn - it was certainly my intent to make these suggestions practical and doable! Blessings on your speaking and writing as well...

  5. Thank you, Lucinda! Wonderful points and a great reminder of Who we serve.

    I have just booked my first two speaking engagements, and I will take your advice to heart!

  6. Haha, great list and all so true. Thanks for sharing!