Public Speaking Tips for Authors Part 1 of 3: Questions to Ask Your Host That Help You Choose Your Topic

Public Speaking Podium

I was so excited for a friend of mine when I learned that she received multiple invitations to do workshops in local schools about her newly published book! But my excitement weakened when I noticed how concerned she was about preparing for the workshops.

What should she wear? What should she say? How would the audience respond?

This blog series pulls out tips from my days of teaching public speaking to college students to prepare her and other authors for the joys of public speaking!

This first part focuses on the questions you should ask your host to prepare for the event.

The best way to manage public speaking anxiety is to prepare and practice for the event as much as possible. The information below is not an exhaustive list, but I did do my best to make it as comprehensive as possible to offer guidance.

Here are the questions you should ask before an event to help you with defining your presentation:

  • Who will be attending the presentation?
  • Are they attending voluntarily or involuntarily?
  • What do your hosts want the audience to gain from your presentation?
  • What are your audience members expecting to gain from your presentation?
  • How much time do you have available to speak?
  • What presentation aid resources will you have access to?

It helps to know the age, gender, professional/academic background, whether or not they are coming voluntarily and anything else you can will help you gain insight into what your audience is thinking. If they are coming involuntarily as part of a special school assembly the students may be grateful to get out of class but expecting to be bored out of their mind by yet another adult talking about something teachers think they should know. If this is the case, you need to find ways to engage them with colorful stories, practical demonstrations and audience involvement when necessary. (Psst! These strategies also work on adults who attend events involuntarily.)

One of my favorite examples of how an author engages his audience is in the following video of Stephen Covey using an audience member to visually demonstrate one of the ideas in his bestselling book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Click here to see the video. 

Once you have all your answers to the questions above, try to imagine yourself as being one of the audience members and ask yourself, “What would they like to know about me or the topic in my book?” Your answer should become your speech topic. If your hosts give you specific topic, then the question you will want to answer is, “What would this audience find interesting about this topic?”

It’s okay if you end up talking about something that is not directly from your book, but it is not okay if you get up and become a talking head that talks about things that the audience does not find interesting or important.

As for the question of what to wear, use the answers to the questions above as a guide. If you are speaking in a formal business setting to people who are most likely in suits, you should be in a suit as well because you don’t want to be “under dressed” compared to your audience. If you are speaking in a casual book club setting, you may want to leave the suit behind to avoid being “over dressed.” The nature of your topic should also guide your wardrobe choice. What would you think if someone wore a halter top and curve-revealing skinny jeans to talk about sexual harassment in the workplace? Or how would you respond a speaker who wore jeans and a sweatshirt to lead a seminar on stock investing? If you are really confused about what to wear, simply ask your host for recommendations.

Think of the last presentation you attended that you though was absolutely amazing. What did you like about the presentation? Would you recommend the same strategy to an author who was building their own presentation?

Danielle Fetherson

Danielle helps aspiring authors become published authors. She believes that everyone has at least one book on the inside of them that can make a positive impact on someone else's life. If you have been thinking about writing a book, learn how to start your book today with the free resources at