What acting taught me about public speaking and more

What acting taught me about public speaking

Many moons ago I took up amateur dramatics for a while. That may seem a bit odd for someone who likes to keep himself to himself, but someone invited me to see a play he was in, and I thought it looked like fun.

I have to say that the thought of going on stage was a terrifying experience. Note that I said the thought of it, not the experience itself. I’ll try to explain.

Speaker with a lot of microphones, by www.audio-luci-store.it https://www.flickr.com/photos/audiolucistore/

It was alright on the night

Before walking on to the stage, actors have to wait for their cue. I used to wait in the wings about 20 minutes before my cue. I was frightened that either I would miss it, or that the actors on stage would somehow skip a page or two of the script (it has been known), in which case I would have to come on earlier than I’d anticipated.  And there was always the possibility that an actor on stage would fluff his lines, so my cue wouldn’t be recognisable unless I had been closely following the script.

So there I’d be, in the wings, poring over the script, which I’d have to hold with both hands because they were shaking so much.

Then my cue would come, I’d walk on to the stage and …

Amazing! Something would take over. I’d feel a calmness, serenity even. I’d play the part really well, and have the audience wrapped around my little finger.

Then I’d walk off, and start shaking again, this time from the adrenalin.

The reasons why

So how could that happen? I put it down to the following:


You have to learn your part by heart. But you must also learn the parts of other actors too, so you can get them out of a hole if necessary. You also have to know about your character and the play inside out, so that if you do forget your lines you can ad lib convincingly.

I think the same applies to giving a talk. I don’t learn my ‘speech’ by heart, because I think that would create a stultifying effect. But I do an awful lot of research, reading around the subject, thinking about it, and going over my talk again and again in my mind before the big day arrives.

It’s not about you

I think another important thing about acting is that nobody cares about you. Your job is to be true to the character, and respect the playwright, and to give the audience a good time. They have paid good money to see the play: you owe it to them to make sure they go away happy.

Is it not the same when you give a talk? The conference delegates or audience at a reading event, say, have come to hear something that you know and they don’t. If you think about the event from their point of view, it helps to stop you obsessing about yourself.

Once you’ve prepared your talk as well as you can, and decided it’s not all about you anyway, you can relax. In my experience, an experience, although the thought of giving the talk is terrifying, the deed itself can actually be enjoyable!

And as for those nerves: in my opinion, the adrenalin is your friend. The nervousness makes you give of your best. Those speakers who are nonchalalant tend, in my experience, to give lacklustre talks, memorable to nobody.


The joy of comics

“There’s Terry, always with his head in a book or a comic.” My mother’s gentle admonishment was a constant feature of our household. But it wasn’t an admonishment against reading, which my parents actively encouraged (books were revered in our home because they were books, almost regardless of the content). Rather, it was a cry of frustration over the fact that once I was engrossed in a book or a comic, anything she said to me literally fell on deaf ears.

Comics get everywhere these days! Photo by Gwyneth Anne Bronwynne Jones https://www.flickr.com/photos/info_grrl/

Comics were a staple of my reading diet. I was constantly buying Superman and Batman comics, usually second-hand, then going back to exchange them for others (the comics shops I frequented had a half-price exchange scheme).

Another favourite was Classics Illustrated, which I was pleased to see revived last year. I read, or at least was introduced to, many classics of English literature through the medium of Classics Illustrated.

The thing is, my love of comics has never abated. Yes, I love the rather more acceptable “graphic novel”, but I still enjoy comics when I have the time to read them!

So, I was very pleased that the British Library saw fit to run an exhibition about this art/literature form. Sadly, “Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK” is now finished, although the book is still available.

Are comics a “legitimate” kind of reading? I think so. Modern comics have borrowed from the world of film, but even before that became more prevalent, or obvious, there was a serious discipline behind the interplay of the words and the art.

Are graphic novels a form of grown-up comic? I prefer to think of comics and graphic novels as being part of the same continuum. It’s just as valid, in my opinion, to view the comic as the graphic novel’s younger brother!

What do you think?


Should you speak for free?

In the article 3 reasons that non-fiction authors should speak, I suggested why public speaking can be important to an author. But the question arises: should that be at any price?

My natural inclination, my default position if you will, is that if you’re good enough to be asked to give a talk, do a presentation or run a workshop, then you deserve to be paid for it. As my wife so succinctly put it to me: “Nothing doesn’t buy anything.”.

2012 Green Heart Schools public speaking competition, by risbane City Council https://www.flickr.com/photos/brisbanecitycouncil/However, situations, like people, are different from one another. At the end of the day, if you are asked to give a talk without payment, your decision of whether or not to accept is one that involves weighing up the (perceived) costs and benefits. Here are the considerations you might wish to take into account.

4 reasons to decline the invitation

First, it comes down to a very basic fact of economic life. As long as your supermarket asks you to pay for your food, your landlord for the rent, and all the other providers of goods and services you benefit from think it appropriate to charge you for the privilege, you need money. I’d never have to audacity to ask any of the suppliers mentioned to let me have their stuff free of charge, so I always think it’s pretty audacious when organisations ask me.

I’ll slightly soften that position in a moment, but let’s ask a simple question: when people ask you to give a talk, what is it that they are wanting? It’s not merely 45 minutes of your time. It’s all your years of expertise, research and insights. Why should you not be paid? To borrow from a TV advertisement: you’re worth it.

Second, audacity is raised to another level when the organisation asking you to speak for nothing is probably going to make a very healthy profit. I was asked by one organisation if I would give a talk at one of their conferences. When I asked them what fee they were offering, I was told that they didn’t pay speakers. I looked at the prices they charged for delegates. Even allowing for room hire and catering fees, the profit I estimated made my eyes water. 

Third, I do wonrry about the fact that some people judge quality by price. If you are seen to be prepared to work for nothing for an organisation that should be able to afford to pay you, what does that look like?

Fourth, there is the opportunity cost involved. Everything has such a cost, which is defined by economists as the next best alternative foregone. In this situation it is the money you will not be earning while preparing the talk, and then attending the event. Now, clearly, the size of this cost is subjective. If you have, as Mae West put it, nothing to do and plenty of time to do it in, the opportunity cost is zero, at least in monetary terms. On the other hand, if you would have to turn down some lucrative work in order to do the talk, the opportunity cost would be much higher in monetary terms.

There are non-monetary costs too, of course. For example, an overnight stay would mean being away from the family; a talk on a Saturday would mean, in effect, halving your weekend. 

7 reasons to accept the invitation

You’d think those four reasons to not speak for nothing would be pretty conclusive. However, there are circumstances in which you might consider doing so.

First, the conference might be a good way of coming to the attention of a large number of people who possibly might not have come across you before. Some of them may buy your books as a result. As an example, you would probably not be paid to speak at the London Book Fair, but think of the opportunity it affords: a talk attended by 100 or more people, your name and details on the seminar programme. It would be most surprising if the exposure did not lead to more sales, more followers and, crucially, more offers of paid speaking work.

Second, and tangentially related to the first point, there is the potential kudos involved. It all depends on the status of the event, who else will be speaking and who might be attending. Bear in mind that terms like “status” and so on are all relative. The President of the United States may be there to hear your talk, but if you are talking about flower arranging he is unlikely to be that interested or influential. On the other hand, a publisher in the audience might be looking for a flower-arranging expert for a new publishing project she has in mind.

Third, being at a conference usually provides good networking opportunities.

Fourth, if the other talks and workshops going on at the conference look good, it could be worth your while accepting the invitation to speak, especially if the conference is expensive and there are no media passes available. I don’t much like the idea of being paid in kind as it were, but it’s something to consider if that’s all there is.

Fifth, it’s an opportunity to promote yourself and your work, especially if you are able to set up a table with your books for sale.

Sixth, it provides an excuse to do some research or organising you’ve been meaning to do anyway. What do I mean by this? Well, let’s suppose you’ve been meaning to look into some new web-based tools for book marketing, but because of paid work commitments you have never been able to justify the time required to do the research on it. Then someone asks you if you could give a talk entitled “Internet tools for book marketing”. Why not use that as an excuse to do the research, then package up your slides into a free PDF available from your website, or when people sign up to your newsletter? Or, even sell it?

Seventh, and here is where I modify my earlier stance somewhat. If the organisation is a (true) non-profit or my talk will do some good in certain quarters, I’d consider it. For instance, I was asked if I would give a talk to a group of people starting a business for the first time. The group doesn’t have any money, and giving the talk would help out someone I know. Plus, it will probably be a relaxing and interesting way to spend an afternoon, especially as it will enable me to find out first hand what their main concerns are.

Well, that is my take on the matter. I think the bottom line is that whatever you do, you have to feel good about your decision. 









3 Reasons that non-fiction authors should speak

One of the things that authors are expected to do is public speaking. Even if you hate the idea, it’s a good thing to do for three reasons.

Authro Neil Gaiman, by Sheila Thomson https://www.flickr.com/photos/sheilaellen/

First, it helps you connect with your intended readership. This is important because it will give you the chance to find out the sorts of things that people are concerned about. Obviously, you will have already done your research before starting to write your book (I hope!). But both the topic you are invited to speak about, and the points raised in the Q and A session, should prove to be very informative.

Second, it’s a way of marketing your book, especially if you are able to have copies of it for sale at the venue.

Third, and in a way the most important of all, it cements the idea in people’s mind that you are an expert, i.e. that you know what you are talking about. In other words, it’s a way of marketing yourself.

But should you do it for nothing? That’s the question I consider in my next post.


Should you write for free? 8 considerations.

On the whole, I am against the idea of writing in return for no money. We all of us have to eat, and find the money to pay the rent or mortgage. Moreover, the more people who are willing to write for nothing, the less likely it is for editors to pay for work. Unfortunately, the usual law of supply and demand prevails, which is to say that the greater the supply relative to demand, the lower the price in the marketplace. Even though the products being offered are not likely to be the same, if an editor needs an article, or is on a tight budget, price may well be the deciding factor.

However, I’m not one of those people who think that writing for free is always wrong. Individuals have to decide for themselves what to do in each specific case. Here are a few suggestions for questions to ask yourself if somebody asks you to write for nothing.

Who is the audience?

If the audience is not one you are likely to be able to address usually, it might be worth doing. That’s why guest blogging works: you have a readership, and I have a readership. Some of the people who read your blog will likely be readers of mine as well — but not all of them. If you want to expand your readership, reach other people, promote yourself or your forthcoming book, etc etc, then guest blogging, or writing for a free newsletter, may be a good option.

How large is the audience?

Size isn’t everything, of course. If, to take an extreme example, someone’s blog had only one reader — but that reader happened to be the Managing Director of a major publishing company — it would probably be worth your while writing an article for their blog for nothing!

Generally, though, size is an important consideration, especially because of the existence of the 1% rule. This name derives from the general observation that in any undertaking, only around 1% of people take action. For example, if a blog or newslletr has a readership of 100 people, only one of them is likely to follow up your suggestion to check out your new book on Amazon.

Intellectual Property Rights

It’s bad enough to not be offered payment in return for an article, but it’s adding insult to injury to then claim ownership of it or an open-ended licence to use it. Giving away your copyright in the article is nuts, frankly, unless they are paying you a truck-load of money. Even then I would have to give it some really serious thought.

But an open-ended licence to use it, and possibly monetise it without paying you, is even worse. And even worse than that is the sort of licence that sates that they do not even have to acknowledge you as the author. So not only do you not get paid, you don’t even have the chance of earning money from commissions based on other people seeing and liking the work that you have effectively given away. Moreover, these sorts of licences usually contain a clause that says that if anyone sues them because of something in the article, you’re the one who has to deal with it!

Money from advertising?

Content mills, as they are called, entice people to write for them by the prospect of a share in the advertising revenue from Google ads placed on the same page as their article. I can’t say I have made an extensive study of this, but I do know, from experience, that an advert would have to be clicked on hundreds of times, possibly even thousands, to give anyone a decent revenue stream. I imagine that the people who do make money from this sort of arrangement are having to churn out an avalanche of articles to make it pay.

If I am wrong, do let me know. But if I am right, this raises two other issues. One is the effective pay rate, the other is reputation.

What’s the effective pay rate?

Let’s say you have to write 10 articles a day in order to earn $100, then the effective rate per article is $10. And that’s before income tax is deducted. 


If you are able to write 10 articles a day, day in and day out, that is pretty impressive. But is the quality any good? Even if it is, what about the quality of the other articles on the same site? If the quality is low, that may not do your reputation a lot of good.

How much work is involved?

I once agreed to write some blog posts for free because it was a different audience to my usual one, though in the same niche, and a larger one (I imagined). However, after I’d sent off the first draft I was asked to make a few amendments. I did so, for the sake of goodwill, and was then asked to make a few more. I emailed back to say that it wasn’t a good use of my time to be constantly having to rewrite the article, and to second guess what they wanted, especially as I wasn’t even being paid for it!

“Quick” articles

One consideration is whether you are able to write an article quickly on a subject you know, and have a reputation of being an expert on, without painting yourself into a corner as far as copyright issues are concerned. For example, I could write an article about educational technology, and it would be ridiculous for a company or an editor to ask me to not write the same sort of thing for anyone else. Ridiculous, though it can happen. One book contract I was offered had such a restrictive non-compete clause in it that it could, in theory, have prevented me from writing for my own website or even training materials ever again!

But if you can write an article that would take relatively little effort, not take long to write, and which might even enhance your reputation, then it may be worth considering.

What about article databases?

I have sometimes submitted articles to online databases. There is no payment involved, but what you gain is a link back to your website (or whatever) if you want it. It’s a way of potentially getting noticed. You still own the rights in the articles if you do this, and you never know where they will end up.

I, for example, have used other people’s articles on my blog and in my newsletter, both of which brought the writers to the attention of a wider circle of people.

However, you do need to be careful, I think. If you submit the same article to dozens of article databases, Google may decide that they are spam, and stop them being indexed. I imagine there could be a worst-case scenario in which an article you have published on your own website or blog and then submitted to online article databases results in your own blog or website being flagged up as spam, and deleted from Google’s search results. That would be like marketing suicide. There’s information on how Google treats duplicate content in this article: Duplicate content.


On balance, I think unless there is a very compelling reason not to, it is much better to enter into an agreement in which you will write an article in return for a fair sum of money. After all, by definition, a professional is someone who gets paid.


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