Presentation Skills For Introverts, Part II: Content

What to Include in Your Presentation (and how to best include it)

person discussing while standing in front of a large screen in front of people inside dim-lighted room
image from unsplash.com

If you’ve read my post on Presentation Skills, you may recall that people care more about how someone talks to you more than what they say (a UCLA study shows an audience judges 93% of a presentation on the speaker’s nonverbals–the how of your presentation). If that just made you clench, go back and reread that post to set your mind at ease. Even the most introverted of introverts can still successfully present, and I show you how.

If you have a presentation coming up and are ready to start tackling content (the what of your talk), I’ve got some kick-butt tips for you. Obviously I can’t tell you what facts to include or graphics to omit because I have no idea what topic you’re speaking about. But there are certain things all effective presentations have, and I’ll list what I think are most important–especially in the writer’s world.

I’m mostly imagining you at a writers conference or an author/ school visit. But these tips fit almost every scenario.

I’m assuming–nay, begging–you have an actual presentation ala PowerPoint or Canvas vs speaking from notes the whole time. You’re cute and all but no one wants to stare at your mug the whole time. (And c’mon introverts, do you really want people staring at nothing but you the entire time?)

Hmm, maybe you want to read this what part first, before you focus on that how. Your call.

The Classic Format:

I’m sure everyone has heard the standard old format “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.” Well honestly, it still works. It’s actually kind of magical. So I’m not going to spend time explaining that. Just know you don’t have to repeat yourself word for word or be formal about how exactly you outline, explain, and recap. It’s the best method to use, IMHO, so stick with it.

The Before You Start Part; Speaking Their Language:

You need to know your audience and cater the presentation to them, at their level. (Or should I say at the level they are, regardless of where you’d like them to be.) You wouldn’t create a presentation to teachers the same way you’d present to second graders. Choose graphics, words, phrases, and examples that speak their language. Think about how they will best respond to what you’re saying, and what techniques you think they are most likely to pay attention to (and therefore learn from).

The Before You Start Part; Thinking Visually:

think outside the box
image from Nikita Kachanovsky and unsplash
  1. Try to think visually. Where can you add a graphic, a photo, a colorful pie chart, do it. Audio clips, video clips.
  2. Think even more visually. Add show & tell items that you hold up or point to behind you. Any sort of prop. Books, stuffed animals, art work, flip charts.
  3. What if there was a part where you stopped and wrote on a whiteboard? What if you started drawing on it? Doing math?
  4. Can you introduce someone in the audience and have them stand up to wave hello?
  5. One note of caution: as mentioned in the Presentation Skills post I keep talking about, don’t pass anything around while you’re speaking. If people are looking at something in their hands, or distracted by the rumble of it getting passed around, it means they aren’t listening to you. Hold it up, then keep it up front and wait until you’re done to let people manhandle it. (And know it might get dirty, broken or stolen.)

Getting Down to Business; The Outline/Preview Part (Tell them what you’re gonna tell them):

It’s great to start out with a bang. A funny story, anecdote, fact. No need to stress over this, though, especially if you’re not funny or if humor doesn’t some easily for you. Many people default to a quote that summarizes the overall topic or feeling of the workshop. Simply google your topic and “quote” or “fact” (“bee facts” “quotes about bees”) and something useful is bound to come up. See “The Now-That-It’s-Written Part; Your Live Intro,” towards the bottom for more details on how to kick things off; it includes how to start your intro as well as what else to include.

Getting Down to Business; The Meat (Tell them)

  1. For every point you make, back it up with examples and data. You don’t need to have first-hand knowledge of everything. But it should all be factual.
  2. Have smooth transitions from one point to the next. Make it clear it’s a new section.
  3. Along the way, ask questions! People like knowing you care about their feelings or opinions. Have people raise their hands by saying “Show of hands [then raise your own hand], how many people have…?” It keeps things interactive (and keeps people on their toes if they know they might be put on the spot. But don’t put any one person on the spot, keep it a group Q). Questions that people can answer YES to are great because it gets buy-in and keeps them invested in what’s going on.

Getting Down to Business; The Recap (Tell them what you’ve told them)

silver corded microphone in shallow focus photography
@kanereinholdtsen
  1. Remind them of all the main points you talked about, and bring at all home with a grand conclusion. “Now you know how to best prepare for your next presentation.”
  2. Leave them with a Call to Action. “I want everyone here today to give themselves a deadline to when they can start practicing their next presentation. I’ll give you 30 seconds to write it down.”

The Conclusion Part

  1. End with a bang. Another great place to have a quote, inspirational story, or joke. At a minimum, leave with a fun-but-relevant graphic on the screen that in large font includes your contact info, where you might be presenting in the near future, book titles/product info, and website. Keep it up until you walk out of the room.
  2. “Thank you for letting me be here today. I hope you learned more than you ever expected about presentations. My name is Bitsy Kemper. Thank you.” (Ideally there will be applause or at least some head nods.)
  3. “Any questions?”
green plant beside white desk
from @jdubs and unsplash

The After Part; Q&A

Yes, you should leave time for Q&A. Spend some time trying to predict what kinds of questions you’ll get so you can either a) go back and include that content in the presentation, or b) have answers ready so you’re not caught off guard.

You’ll still have people raising their hands afterwards, even if you don’t officially include a Q& section. You are the content expert and people will understandably want to pick your brain. Yeah, sure, there might be a few chomping at the bit to prove they know more than you, but keep your cool. Control the room.

  1. If questions were asked during the presentation that you are going to cover, do no answer the question. State “We will answer that in about two minutes.” Then move on.
  2. If questions were asked that you don’t cover, don’t answer them right then either. You are in control, remember. “I don’t cover that here, but let me write that down and we can go over it in Q&A after the talk.” Use a flipchart or whiteboard if avail so they know you are taking it seriously.
  3. Question that came out of left field? “That’s a great question but a little off topic for what we’re learning today. I can talk to you after for a little bit.” That’s it. Move right on to next slide, Q, or point.
  4. If someone challenges you or picks apart your facts/presentation, be gracious. They just want attention. You typically don’t have to challenge them back. “Thank you for your feedback. [pause] Anyone else with questions?” seems to be very effective. That lets them know they’ve been heard.
    • Have I mentioned “Control the room” enough? It’s your show. Not theirs. You have the mic. You get the last word. Just make sure it’s a kind one.

The Now-That-It’s-Written Part; Your Live Intro:

  1. Kick off your talk by pandering to the audience. It works Every. Time. You know how rock stars shout out “Hello Sacramento!” and the local crowd goes wild? The crowd feels seen. Special. As if this concert is only for them and hasn’t been done exactly like this on tour all 147 times earlier this past year. Do the same thing. Unless you’re not in Sacramento. Start with “Hello, Cherry Avenue Second Grade!” or “Good morning, writers and illustrators!” They will know you are there–for them and only them.
  2. Next, slowly and carefully state your name (don’t assume everyone knows you!) as well as the name of the session/workshop/talk or topic. “I’m Bitsy Kemper and this is Presentation Skills Part II: Content.” This allows an early and fast exit to anyone that is in the wrong room.
    • Start your slide presentation after you say your name and after the title of the talk. Don’t have it up before you talk, or the second you start talking. You want people to get used to focusing in on YOU, not watching the screen.
  3. Give a sentence or two on why YOU are the content expert and why you are uniquely qualified to be giving this presentation. Toss in a fun fact if you’d like. “I’ve been presenting professionally for years. You may have seen me on CNN or on one of my regular TV news segments in Sacramento, Portland, Phoenix, or Albuquerque, heard me on national radio, read my syndicated newspaper column, or seen me in any of literally hundreds of media outlets across the country. Maybe you’ve driven by me on the freeway and didn’t even know it!”
  4. Dive right in with “Today you are going to learn…” (see the important reason why you don’t lead with “Today I am going to talk about…” in DON’T #1 here)

The Now-That-It’s-Written Part; Handouts

  1. PEOPLE LOVE HANDOUTS. Please do yourself a favor and create something, anything. The audience will not only love you extra for it, but they’ve got a tangible piece of you they can take with them. It’s the best marketing tool!
  2. As with visuals, don’t pass them out while or even before you’re talking. It’s a distraction; people look ahead or read instead of listen. Let them know you have handouts and will be distributing afterward. It helps ensure people stay until the end 🙂
  3. Don’t include proprietary info or anything that would prevent someone from coming to your session next time. Give them just enough to remember what you were saying and how great you were; not the whole presentation.
  4. Make SURE you have enough for everybody. This is ESPECIALLY important at schools. Don’t give away 60 bookmarks and leave 42 kids without. If you realize you’re shorthanded, don’t sweat it. Mail 102 to the school afterward. This goes for anything when it comes to kids: HAVE ENOUGH FOR EVERYONE. I learned the hard way. After a school visit a kid asked me for my autograph. I said sure, and grabbed the one piece of letterhead I had handy. Big mistake. Another kid came running over. “Can I have your autograph?” I didn’t have any other paper. I tore off a piece of scrap paper from my school-visit contract, the only other paper I had. The first kid gloated. A third kid came running over. I tore a scrap of paper even smaller. Fourth kid. No paper left. I asked if he had any paper or notebook that I could sign. He did not. First kid gloating even more. Kids that were dismissed from the assembly started running back in and lining up. I had no paper. At all. Kids wanted autographs. “It’s not fair so-and-so got one.” The teacher Was. Not. Pleased. Lesson learned.

I promised you kick-butt tips on creating the content of your presentation and hope I delivered.

Let me know if you learned anything. If you use them. If you have other tips.

Now stop reading and start preparing. You’ve got lots to do. And you’re gonna do great.

Wasting Time Interviewing Wrong Agent?

Photo by Ryan Franco on Unsplash

I was presenting at a workshop where they held agent pitch appointments, also called Agent Meet & Greets. Several attendees ended up disgruntled. And they shouldn’t have been.

Let me take a step back.

Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

What’s an “agent meet and greet,” you may ask? At this one, attendees paid a certain amount of money for 10 glorious minutes of face time with any or all of the agents that were attending the one-day conference. Writers weren’t allowed to hand over their manuscript directly, but could:

  • ask about the agent (are you editorial–do you give feedback on manuscripts or do you only submit as is? how many clients are you actively subbing right now? what kinds of stories do you like and tend to submit: humor, sci fi, YA, etc)
  • ask about the agency (how long has it been around? where is it headquartered and is that where you are located? how many are in the office? [<–technically they should have already looked up that info but I digress] are you autonomous or does the Director play a strong role?)
  • ask about the industry (do you see many historical fictions these days? are picture books selling well?)

Mostly, though, (smart) writers were there to use the 10 minutes to talk about their manuscript and ask for feedback. If we’re going to call a spade a spade, mostly people were hoping that after discussing the manuscript, the agent would say “sounds interesting, send it my way, I’ll have a look.” They were there to pitch their story to the agent in hopes of getting representation. And that’s fair–nothing wrong with that. Agents know that coming in–in fact, that’s why there are there too! They are looking for new talent/work. Win win.

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

But as in every potential relationship, not all work out. Even when they were SURE this one would.

Several people lamented to me that their agent meetings “didn’t go well” because the agent didn’t like the manuscript, or didn’t ask for them to send it in. They felt they wasted their time and their money. But that’s not true!! That meeting still went well. In fact, it almost went better than if they asked for the entire manuscript to be sent in.

Almost.

Listen. If the agent wasn’t a fan of your submitted work/idea, or if you didn’t get the feels, THEN SHE ISN’T THE AGENT FOR YOU! You 100% still had a good meeting. How? You now know that agent isn’t for you. The last thing you want is someone not committed to you or work work, or a contract with someone you don’t get along with. An agent is someone you’re going to be working with for a long time–you want a good working relationship based on mutual trust and effort. If she isn’t into you or your work, it’s GREAT that she let you know (and I’m sure it was a gentle let down). It’s now a confirmed data point vs an unknown. 

This applies to interviewing almost anyone for anything–once you’ve said or heard no to/from that person, you are that much closer to saying yes to the right one. This “No thanks” was time well spent. In the case of the writing world, you aren’t getting your hopes up by emailing a proposal or query or manuscript to someone that on paper looked perfect only to wait six months to get a form rejection letter back. You already know this isn’t the agent. Seriously, that is good information. In other industries and situations, you can confidently say, “we avoided making a mistake by hiring that one.” It’s not idle effort. The important thing is that you’re getting yourself out there, seeking.

Photo by Japheth Mast on Unsplash

I once had a dream agent that I found out about, read all I could about her, practically memorized the agency website as well as her bio page, and followed on her on Twitter. She was hilarious. We had the same sense of humor. I KNEW we’d be a great match. I couldn’t wait to meet her at a conference. But once I met her in person…wow. Does. Not. Equal. We were sooo not a match. While she was a great agent for others, there was no way I wanted to work with her. And I never would have known for sure had I not met her in person. It was not a waste of time. It saved me time.

Think of if this way: now you can get moving focusing on someone else to grow old with. The right someone else.

Photo by Rubén Bagüés on Unsplash

Do you Want to Write For Hire? Take This Quiz to Decide

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You may have wondered if Work For Hire is right for you. If you’re considering writing in the children’s book industry, I’ve created a quiz that might help. It’s based on my personal experiences as well as several colleagues I interviewed. [To give you some perspective on collective experience that I’m drawing from: I’ve written 16 kidlit titles for hire so far; picture books, chapter books, and YA–most of them as part of an existing series where the other titles were written by several other people. The fellow writers I talked to have authored close to 100 for-hire titles total.] We’ve all written for different editors and publishers, on different topics, in different genres, with different parameters. Every contract was in some way unique. But generally speaking, Work For Hire has similarities that differ from traditional publishing.

It’s not for everyone.

Is it for you?

First, a definition. “Writing for Hire” means a contract from a publisher or third party—usually from an outline, writing samples, or pitch—to write a book as assigned. For them. It

—might have pre-established characters and settings

—might be ghostwritten under someone else’s name

—might include a “tie-in” or “media-related” connection to an existing product, entity or trademark, such as a movie, comic book, game (typically referred to as intellectual property rights, or i/p)

Lawyers define it as “an exception to the general rule that the person who creates the work owns the copyright. If a work is made by an employee within the scope of their employment or if it was a specially commissioned contribution…it may be a work-for-hire. The employer or hiring party is considered to be the author and thus the copyright owner. A work-for-hire agreement must be signed by both parties before the creation of the commissioned work.” (emphasis mine)

Sometimes you work directly for a publisher. Sometimes you work for a middleman, called a book packager or book producer, who in turn works for the publisher. The book or series might be your idea, but is more likely their in-house idea that they are hiring out for–usually part of a series such as early readers featuring popular TV characters like Spongebob or a history series for K-3rd grade.

Bottom line is: you write it, they own it.

Quiz time:

  • Do you prefer innovation over purely-from-scratch invention? (More like, say, creating a collage than painting)
  • Can you work with a pre-existing format, one you didn’t create?
  • Can you write in someone else’s voice, and/or match the general tone/voice and target age range of an existing series?
  • Are you okay handing over your work and having someone else do whatever they want to before going to print–even though it (probably) has your name on it?Do you take direction well? (See earlier reference to pre-existing format and matching voice)
  • Are you good at research, note taking, keeping files of resources and interviews?
  • Can you handle rewrites without arguing? (See all of the above)
  • Are you good with deadlines–possibly short ones? (Typically in the six-eight month range, start to finish)
  • Can you handle someone else telling you exactly what needs to be done, then possibly changing gears midstream?
  • Are you okay getting a flat fee, with no royalties? (Note: there is a chance you’ll come out ahead this way. Slim chance, sure, but a chance.)
  • Are you okay with the fact that even though it has YOUR name on it, the contents and everything about it may not have been your preference or decision?

If most answers are Yeses, you might be on the right track.

If most questions made you clench, well, relax. Before you get too nervous, know that the publisher isn’t out to screw you. They don’t want to mess up your work on purpose. Their goal–like yours–is to get the best possible product in the hands of their customer/reader; but the main caveat is it’s usually the best product possible created in the shortest amount of time. You might disagree on what the best product ultimately looks/reads like. (It doesn’t matter though. They have final say. On everything.) Just know they really do have the best interest of the customer in mind. They want to sell books! This is their business! They fully understand a crappy book won’t sell as well as a well-written one. They don’t want to put their reputation on the line for shoddy quality. They have your back; their name is on the cover, too.

There are feel-good questions to ask yourself about Work For Hire too:

  • Would you like a shorter time to market? (That is–getting your book on the shelf faster? Most WFH is on the shelf within a year, vs up to potentially 2 to 5 or even 7 years later going the traditional route.)
  • Would you like getting paid in a timely manner? (Many pay half the fee upon acceptance of contract and the other half upon submission/completion of the work)
  • If the project is cancelled, would you still like to get paid some of the contracted amount? (Make sure you’ve got a “kill fee” in your contract!)
  • Do you like direct feedback on how to make your assigned work better?
  • Do you like taking an idea and running with it? (Assuming you are okay when they need to rein you back in)
  • Do you like a clean set of rules, with a detailed schedule, giving you less time to goof off online and on social media? [Maybe that’s just me, lol]
  • Do you like being in control of which projects you agree to and which you decline? (It’s always okay to say no thanks)
  • Do you like researching and choosing which publishers and packagers you work with?
  • Do you like having a built-in opportunity to work with the same WFH people again? (Assuming you’re not a jerk to work with…)
  • Do you like learning about new topics you may have never considered writing about?

And most importantly:

  • Do you want to get published?!

If you took this quiz and are a yes (wo)man, then Writing For Hire is for you! Give it a try!

How to go about finding Writing For Hire opportunities will be the topic of my next blog… Hint: it takes just as much effort as pitching your current manuscripts! But worth it.

If you’ve had experiences similar or in contrast to these Quiz questions, tell me about in in the comments. I love hearing anecdotal WFH stories.

Shopping at IKEA

Image result for image ikea warehouse

I dreamt that I was in IKEA, looking for a replacement piece for something from my kid’s room. I look all over the warehouse, up and down every aisle. You know how big that place is! Had people helping, looking part numbers up on the computer, nothing. Two hours. I’m out of options, on the ground floor near the register, when I decide to look a little closer, turn it upside down…and… It’s a Lego piece.

Isn’t that how writing is sometimes? You exhaust every option trying to figure out a story arc or plot point or character tic, get nowhere, only to one day–usually in the middle of the night when you have no pen and paper nearby–look at it from a different angle, and realize all this time you’ve been shopping at IKEA for a Lego piece.

Image result for image blank lego face

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is STEP AWAY. We think we need to WORK THRU IT. We can do this. MARCH ON. We got this. MAKE IT WORK, DANG IT. We won’t be defeated!

And yet, by powering on, we might be getting in our own way. We are so focused on fixing the problem–the FIX–that we aren’t examining THE PROBLEM. We aren’t holding it in our hands, placing it up to the light, looking at it from different angles. If our eyes are only set on the finish line, we can’t see the road we’re on, or we forget WHY we’re on the road in the first place. And we’ll stumble and fall and make all kinds of messes, not to mention waste all that time (ours as well as other people’s).

So how about this: the next time you’re struggling with something, set it down. Don’t think about it.

Go for a walk. Nietzsche said “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” A Stanford University study confirmed it. Walking boosts the creative formation of ideas, both in real time and shortly after (“Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking” by Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz, American Psychological Association, 2014). Neuroscientists say exercise, even mild forms like a walk around the block, releases dopamine, which helps us feel relaxed and all around in a better mood. That makes the chances of having great ideas more likely. Ditto for taking a shower, hopping on a bike, or going for a drive.

Work on something else. Set your work down for a while. Literally place it in a file and don’t plan to look at it for two months. OK, fine, six weeks. What’s the rush? Ben Baldwin, who created a company that helps predict who will succeed at which job and why, points to the benefits of freeing your mind for a bit. “The subconscious mind runs in the background, silently affecting the outcome of many thoughts. So, take a break and smell the flowers, because while you’re out doing that, your mind may very well solve the problem that you are trying to solve or spark a solution to a problem you hadn’t considered before,” he said in a WSJ article packed with advice from entrepreneurs about creating ideas.

Force connections. Just for fun, force your main character to do something, well, out of character. Place them in a situation they shouldn’t be in, in a predicament they would hate, or trapped in a room with the person they dislike the most. Writer’s Digest suggests “forcing your character into a corner,” among other creative tips. See what happens. You don’t have to keep the scene, but you may find a side of the character you didn’t notice before. Maybe there is a descriptive part of the location–a balcony or city–that you can keep and use elsewhere. Even if you use none of it, you’ve forced your own creative brain out of its comfort zone. Odds are, your brain needed that push!

The point is, when faced with a challenge, the answer isn’t always to power through. Sometime it’s better to let go, just for a little while, to get a better look at the situation. Maybe you’ve been barking up the wrong tree.

Don’t waste your time at IKEA when what you really need is a Lego piece.

Revision: Taking A Step Back

 

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Have you ever been asked to read a friend’s manuscript, and, well, their work was borderline horrible? But that friend is so clueless that he/she thinks it’s PERFECT and is honestly thinks a movie deal will be offered any day now?

Well I’ve been that friend. My first drafts were horrible. In fact, I didn’t even know they were drafts. I thought I had a final product. And I thought I had a GOOD final product.

After the first pieces of feedback, I got busy rewording a few things here and there, changed a description or two. What I didn’t realize is I was waaaay off the mark in what needed to be fixed. It wasn’t a matter of copy edits. It was the story overall needed some attention. “Revision” was something that needed to sit tight while bigger issues were figured out.

Here’s what I wish helpful folks would have told me:

Dear Bitsy,

Thank you for the chance to review your manuscript. It’s a charming concept with some wonderful moments. But it needs a bit of work.

A book is a story, a destination. HOW you tell the story is almost more important than WHAT the story is. Both need to be solid.

A simple question to ask yourself is: My books is about _______ but underneath it’s about ________. Wanting to dance, for example, is really a story about wanting to find a partner, or wanting to belong. Knowing what your character wants is what your story is about. Continue reading