Why Authors, Creatives And Other Introverts Should Consider Public Speaking

I’m a professional speaker, as well as an author. I’m also an introvert.

public speaking for authors creatives and other introvertsPublic speaking is an important part of my creative business, currently making up around 30% of my income. It helps me to market my books, travel all expenses paid, and meet amazing people, but it also enables me to share a message of empowerment with writers, which I find amazingly rewarding.

When I spoke at the London Book Fair in April 2013, I mentioned that I was an introvert, someone who recharges by being alone, not uncommon for authors! I had so many comments about it that I decided to write a book for people like me.

“Public speaking for authors, creatives and other introverts” is available now on Amazon and also on Kobo. It’s at launch pricing of 2.99 until 19 Jan, when the price will go up to 5.99. It’s an info-packed resource that will help you with the practicalities of speaking, the mindset as well as the business aspects.

Here are some of the possible reasons you might decide to speak, excerpted from the book.

(1) Sharing your message. Helping and inspiring people

One of the most rewarding things about speaking is sharing your message and changing people’s lives. If you’re passionate about your topic and you communicate well, you will touch individuals, sometimes in unexpected ways. The light dawning in someone’s eyes as they suddenly understand that their life can change is fantastic, and I think many of us speak to help others. This is intrinsic reward, and the reason why some people speak for free to groups that might not be able to afford professional speakers otherwise.

Whenever I am exhausted from speaking and traveling, and think that perhaps I want to give it up, this is the anchor I hold on to. I made a commitment when I started this blog in 2008, that I wanted to help release a million books into the world. Every person that I empower to write, publish and market their book adds to the tally, and whenever I speak, I add a few more to the list. Whatever you speak about, consider how you might change people’s lives.

(2) Speaking can be personally transformative

When you craft a talk, you have to organize your thoughts into a coherent structure and lead people through a story. This

Guardian Speaking Masterclass

Teaching a Guardian Masterclass

helps to order your own thoughts, and can change the way in which you think about a topic. Writing this book has helped me to clarify further what I want from my own speaking career, and we often teach what we need to learn the most.

Going outside your comfort zone is also valuable for personal development, and speaking in front of a crowd is one of those skills that can transform you and give you more confidence. It can help you to face your fears and help you through helping others. You also have to share your own stories and personal experiences, and I’ll come back to this in more detail later, but in sharing from your heart, you can confront your own problems.

(3) Marketing your creative work and harnessing word-of-mouth marketing

Speaking enables you to connect directly with people, and they are more likely to become fans of your creative work through seeing your face and hearing your voice. If people listen to you and see you in action, they get to know you better. They can ask you questions and you can demonstrate your knowledge. You connect with individuals this way, and great marketing is best done with a personal connection.

Joanna Penn speaking at a Berlin publishing conference

Speaking in Berlin

If you give a fantastic talk or seminar, if you are memorable for all the right reasons, people may well talk about you to their friends. This generates word-of-mouth publicity for you, the very best kind. People may buy your books or creative products, or attend your next workshop.

(4) Stand out from the crowded market

Thousands of books, and millions of creative products are put on sale each week, so how do you stand out? Being a professional speaker can mark you out, because most people would rather do practically anything else than speak in public. You have an advantage if you speak, because you can say yes to new opportunities.

(5) Successful creatives have to speak anyway

Best-selling authors and creatives speak at festivals, conventions and events and also appear on the radio, TV, and other media. Therefore, if you want to plan for success, you need to prepare for these events and make sure that you fulfill the audience’s expectations when you get there. I’ve been at many literary festivals where authors have given a poor performance and it has affected the way in which they are perceived by the audience.

In comparison, I saw Ms Cupcake, a creative cake-maker, speak at a women’s event. She was enthusiastic and passionate, demonstrating confidence in her business. As a creative entrepreneur, she has gone on to have a TV show, best-selling books, and a thriving cupcake business.

(6) Multiple streams of income

Speakers can earn a good speaking fee for a keynote speech, but can also run workshops or other events that may generate significant income. Many speakers sell books and products at events, but you can also include the price of a piece of your work in the cover charge so that all attendees get one as part of the event. ‘Back of the room’ sales are almost guaranteed if you give a great talk/workshop/seminar, because people want to take something of you home. Speaking has enabled me to become a full-time creative entrepreneur, making up around 40% of my income.

(7) Expenses-paid travel

speaking in bali

Speaking in Ubud, Bali

This may be more of a personal reason, but I’m a travel junkie and one of my goals around professional speaking is to use it as a vehicle for travel experiences. When I speak in different cities, or even a different country, I generally stay on for a day or two after the event and experience a new place. This might negate the ‘income’ goal in many instances, but I often get ideas for my novels when I travel and so it is a life priority for me. It nourishes my soul!

(8) Serendipity

You never know who is in the audience when you speak, or what will come from your appearance on that particular day. It may be that someone talks to someone else and suddenly you get a call that changes everything. You’ll never know unless you put yourself out there.

Those are some of the reasons I speak. I hope it might encourage you to consider speaking too.

“Public speaking for authors, creatives and other introverts” is available now on Amazon and also on Kobo. It’s at launch pricing of 2.99 until 19 Jan, when the price will go up to 5.99.

Yes, I am available to speak internationally :) Here’s my speaking page and testimonials if you’d like more detail.

Do you do any public speaking? Do you want to, or do you dread it? Please do share your thoughts, comments and recommendations below.

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  1. says

    Toastmasters can be a great way to learn how to speak in front of people, though time consuming. You do several different kinds of speaking, including prepared speeches and an impromptu one, where you only have the time it takes to walk to the lectern to come up with a speech.

    As a writer, I could see how similar speeches were to writing. My only problem was that, while I got better at doing speeches in TM, I couldn’t seem to overcome how nervous I got. One day, we were doing a conference at work, and I was doing the audio visual. I was flipped charts for my senior boss. The tables were set up in a U, and the projector was right in the center of that. I’d just gotten new shoes — never a good thing with my dropping arches and rolling ankle. The boss wanted to give awards, so I hurried off the stage. Hit the carpet, and my ankle rolled. Down I went in front of 100 people. Collective gasp from the audience. Bounced back up and finished walking off stage. After one or two people checked to see if I was okay, most everyone ignored. But every time I went near my boss, she was like, “Don’t fall.”

    After that, I haven’t had the same problems with nervousness.

    You do have to be able to learn to work with things that happen at the last minute. A speech in any location has a lot of moving parts. Everything go wrong. At a TM contest, a man walked into the room and started playing a trumpet in the middle of a speech. A speaker at a conference tripped over the cord and pulled out projector. He made a joke about it (he had done exactly the same thing at the last conference) and went on while we worked on the projector. My boss was giving a presentation at a conference, and the organizers ran into version control problems. They handed out the correct version and showed the wrong one — and it was really obvious. She just went on as if nothing was wrong. Another speaker with the same problem complained bitterly about it throughout the presentation, so she didn’t leave a good impression. A speaker picked up the remote control and got it upside down, so he started flipping his slides backwards. Another speaker used recycled slides. I had worked on the slides and told him they were build slides (animation that builds a little at a time). He ignored me and was surprised at the conference by them. Things always, always go wrong, and you have to be able not let it throw you off.

    • says

      It seems amazingly common to have a falling over story :) Touch wood, it’s not happened to me yet, but I’ve seen it lots, and seen some great recoveries. Turning it into laughter often helps!

  2. says

    I was a single teenage mother at the age of 14. I had to grow up very fast during this time. I want to incorporate some public speaking in my author platform because I want to provide young mothers the tools and avenues I used to make it through. I haven’t did this because I am not sure if speeches about different lifestyle changes of a teen mother would be able to build an audience. My passion is writing, education teenage mothers and helping the homeless find shelter from their storm.

    Do you believe I can build audiences with different elements of these two topics, educating teenage mothers and helping the homeless speeches?

    • says

      Hi Teresa, absolutely.
      The power of public speaking is in your authentic story. You have the experience that will help others, and sharing it can only help. You can also broaden your message – because it’s about resilience, surviving (and thriving), change and other more universal things that you can bring to other audiences.

      • says

        Hi Joanna,

        Thank you for the encouragement. I believe a little encouragement goes a long way and a lot of times all a person needs to help motivate them. I appreciate you having this form and answering questions. It is very helpful to get information from those experienced in the field.

  3. says

    Great stiff as usual, Joanna. I have always been horrified of public speaking, but in the spirit of (transformative) spiritual growth I volunteered to be liturgist in our church several years ago. I was always nervous and, of course, stumbled at times (especially in the beginning), but as it turned out I was pretty good at it and received many, many compliments from the congregation. I know, I know, it’s church people, but trust me I was good and I knew it. :)

    Now, we’ve changed churches and I don’t have a chance to speak in public any more. My novel comes out in February and I am going to have a few local speaking/reading engagements and I’m already getting nervous about it. So, a couple questions if your or anyone else would like to offer suggestions on…

    – I can see where non-fiction writers could have a topic to be passionate about, but this seems like a different challenge for fiction writers? Can you offer tips on how us fiction writers might look at this?

    – Practically speaking (no pun intended), how long do you typically speak at an engagement? Is it a combination of reading from your novel and from a prepared presentation?

    – Do you have a standard presentation you give or do you create something custom for each audience?

    – Probably my biggest fear is a post-event Q&A where I will get asked questions from people who are assuming I’m more learned than I really am. :) Is that a common fear? Any tips on how to overcome or handle such situations?

    • says

      Hi Derek,

      Church is a great place to practice, since people are not meant to be judgemental :)
      maybe you can volunteer at your new place in the future.
      On your questions:

      – Fiction writers all have their favorite themes and topics, as well as personal stories that fuel their stories, so that’s a good start. You may also get asked to speak at festivals etc which are actually about your books, so learning to speak coherently about your story is a great start. When people say, ‘what’s your book about?’ don’t say ‘um, it’s hard to explain’ :)

      – all speaking engagements are different – e.g. most panels at fiction festivals would be less than an hour and you’d only be speaking for part of that – but I also give full day workshops/seminars on my non-fiction topics

      – Just always be authentic and honest – you are allowed to say ‘I don’t know,’ that’s fine. I know that fear of failure or fear of judgement is also my issue, but really, most people are lovely and aren’t out to get you :)

      – I have a couple of standard presentations for various topics, but I always adjust that per audience. I go into a lot more detail about this in the book.

  4. says

    Thank you for writing this post, gonna go buy that book right now! I’m starting up a tutorial series for how to write a romance novel, and it’s TERRIFYING. Even with just me and the camera, I’m shy – I can’t imagine being in front of a ton of people. I hope that I can push myself, because this year I really want to go to libraries and help people write and self-publish their writing. Do you have any tips for those of us who are camera-shy? Or would it be the same as talking in front of a group? Thanks Joanna!!

    • says

      Hi Aubrey, it’s funny but I find that the video screen is great because I am on my own as I record. My top tip would be to practice and not expect to get it right until you’ve done a few takes – you need to be MORE animated than you usually are (at least I do!) because people are used to it with video these days. Smile more than feels comfortable. Imagine a friend you really like is the camera – draw a smiley face on a sticky underneath it if that helps :)

      Starting with libraries will be great for speaking, as people in libraries are very nice people. They will be so supportive, I bet you. All the best with it.

  5. Hannah Hudson says

    To me that’s like saying all arachnophobics should sit in a room of spiders for a couple of hours because its going to be good for business. No money can justify the anxiety, no matter what logical reasons for doing so. I think as an introvert you have to find your own boundaries and do your best to work within that. Success is not worth the anxiety for those further on the introverted scale (as that is what it is). If I have to public speak I dry up, feel sick, can’t get my words out and worry for weeks beforehand. I want to enjoy being creative not dread it.

    • says

      Hi Hannah,
      Most of the creative people who have asked me to write this book have felt the same way – but they have been ‘forced’ to speak at literary events or libraries or other places where authors HAVE TO speak. Most of the time it isn’t paid, so it’s not about the money, it’s about getting their work out there, meeting fans of the book/s.
      I agree that you have to find your own boundaries – but you also have to push them if you want to develop. I can see how difficult Hilary Mantel finds public speaking, but as a double prize-winner, she can’t say no. I want to help authors plan for that kind of success, and it’s better to practice at your local library before you hit the big time!
      All the best – whatever you choose to do.

  6. says

    Yay! It’s finally out and I just bought it! I’m so excited to read all your tips and begin preparing myself to speak at libraries and book signings, etc. this summer. “We often teach what we need to learn the most.” I couldn’t agree more. Speaking on a topic you’re passionate about helps you learn so much about the topic, yourself and the people who are listening to you. I’m so looking forward to reading the book and getting started. At my first engagement, I’ll have you and your enthusiasm in my head cheering me on! Please do let us know when the book is available in print. With non-fiction, I always buy the print version. It’s easier for me to refer back to particular sections. But I’m getting started with the ebook!

  7. Megaera says

    There is no way I will *ever* believe that a person is really an introvert if s/he can learn to get over fear of public speaking. Don’t even try to explain that away. The two are mutually exclusive.

    If you can handle public speaking, then you’re not an introvert. By definition. Not a certain kind of introvert or any other qualifier. Not an introvert. Period.

    If I *could* get over my terror of public speaking, I’d have done it by now (I’ve only been trying off and on for forty years). These sorts of articles deliberately set out to belittle people who *cannot* handle public speaking. Period. Those of us who can’t handle it don’t need you shoving it down our throats that we can do it only if we try.

    • says

      Hi Megaera, introverted doesn’t mean shy – the two have different continuums, and may intersect in some people.
      I suggest you have a look at Susan Cain’s book ‘Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that won’t stop talking,’ and also read her comments on introverts and public speaking here:
      It’s related to, perhaps, the most famous introverted speaker in the world, Malcolm Gladwell.

      • Megaera says

        I’ve read it, thank you. It doesn’t change the fact that introvert/=someone who can handle public speaking. Period.

    • Stacie says

      I completely disagree with this. Some of the most amazing speakers I have ever heard are introverts. Just because you are an introvert who prefers not to speak (or who has some barriers to speaking), doesn’t mean every person who speaks in public has to be an extrovert. Public speaking and introversion are in no way mutually exclusive. You are defining introversion by your experience, and I find that very limiting for my experience. I am able to speak in public–and I am definitely an introvert. I am energized by being alone–but I am so passionate about my ideas and causes, I push myself to “take the stage” as opportunity arises.

      I don’t find this article belittling at all. People can learn to do–and excel in things way outside their comfort zone. Maybe you could attend a desensitization training or therapy if speaking is something you really want to do! But please don’t label me an extrovert just because I can do something that you are unable to do! I am quite in tune with who I am.

      • Megaera says

        Your experience is no more valid than mine, and I could say exactly the same thing about you.

        I have every right to be justifiably angry about articles like this.

        • says

          I agree with Stacie. Your experience is valid, of course.
          However, I’m an introvert, too. I get incredibly nervous if I have to speak in front of a group yet the ability to speak well is not affected. I don’t go to parties because there’s too much noise and I don’t know what to say to anyone. I hang onto my husband and try not to get separated. Yet, I’m very sociable in small groups.
          Being an introvert or an extrovert is neither good or bad, it just is. No one can make you feel badly if you aren’t comfortable speaking in public. Only you can make yourself feel badly about it. In that case, accept who you are. There is simply no shame in not learning how do something.
          On the other hand, if you really want to speak in public, then maybe first try talking to a very small informal group and work your way up to whatever size group you choose to speak to.
          And, honestly, why would anyone, least of all Joanna, write an article that would deliberately upset someone?

  8. says

    Great stuff Joanna. I, at one time, was petrified of public speaking, but now I love it. Why? I’d answer for the same reasons as the first commenter, Linda: Toastmasters. I like to tell people that I go to Toastmasters so I can make mistakes, fix them, and then go out into the real world with my material. Toastmasters is an international organization: Toastmasters.org .

    I belong to a club that meets every week. Where else can you go that has a captive audience that is there to help you improve, and it is very inexpensive. I’ve been a member for ten years now, and love it. Ironically, just this week, I posted a Youtube video of a Toastmasters speech I did about where publishing is these days and about all of the changes we’re seeing as writers. The speech is about twenty minutes, but I think most writers will enjoy the topic, I keep it light and fun.


    Most Toastmasters speeches are much shorter, 5-7 minutes, but this particular speech was from one of the more advanced manuals. You can see that I am having fun, and once you overcome your public speaking fears, with lots of practice, you’ll have fun too.

    Once again Joanna, you’re one of my “writing heros.” Keep it up, you’re improving the whole industry as you take us along on your journey.

  9. says

    Hi Joanna,

    I just downloaded your public speaking book & skimmed through. Looks great! Good for you to tackle a subject that scares the crap out of most people :)

    I just wanted to pass on a tip about settling the butterflies. If you clasp your hands across your midsection and lightly press against your solar plexus, the pressure induces a physiological effect that calms the central nervous system. This can be done as a pre-speech warmup or, if in front of the crowd, the act looks very natural and no one would notice. I leaned this years ago when being trained on how to give evidence in court. It really works!

    Also, the misconception that introverts can’t learn to public speak is pure BS. I’m on the far end of the introvert scale and I’ve been public speaking for years. I still get nervous, but just prepare carefully – then visualize that it will go fine – and it does. The ‘I could never do it’ attitude is all in the mind.

  10. says

    Great article. I’m a writer and I joined Toastmasters when I moved to a new country. I found that there are many similarities between public speaking and writing fiction, and the two complement one another. For example, when you have a speaking assignment – usually for a maximum of 8 minutes at Toastmasters – then you really have to think carefully about an attention grabbing opening, a solid structure, and holding the attention of the listeners until the punchy conclusion. Of course, very similar to writing a novel or short story. An additional bonus is that Toastmasters is also useful in teaching you about use of voice (intonation, projection etc) and if you ever read your work as a writer, this is really important.

    • says

      That’s a great point Neil, and I think structure is under-rated in all story-telling. Even ‘pantsers’ have to structure their books, and as speakers, structure is critical – leading people through the journey of the story takes a lot of work.

  11. says

    Hi Jo
    I must confess, despite being a teacher, I’m not a fan of public speaking. I recently gave a best man’s speech, and although it went well, I was aware that I was swaying throughout, as a way to stop my hands from shaking! :)
    Having said that, I do think it’s a great way to make contact with people. I, like you, would also love to see more of the world, and being paid to do so sounds wonderful. My music has taken me to a few places, but I’d love to see more.
    It’s amazing that speaking makes up such a bit chunk of your revenue stream. That alone is a good motivator :)

  12. says

    I think public speaking is essential for writers, espetially for poets, who sometimes need to recite their poetry. I belong to those who still think poetry is there to be recited! Art is a dialogue with the public, and the challange for writers nowadays is to interact with the readers, talk to them, listen to them! I normally don’t need to speak publically. Although it wasn’t a serious issue for me at school, I am sure I would be very nervous if I needed to explain my poetry in front of a lot of people, or even only recite some of my longer poems in a proper way. Fortunately, only the very famous ones need to be too concerned with this. As I do not belong to this pantheon, I just enjoy my anonimity. :) And keep writing…
    Kind regards,

  13. says

    In a couple of weeks I’ll be doing my first author presentation at my local library. I’ve always feared public speaking and avoided situations where I’d have to do it. But having published my first two novels last year and doing the necessary marketing, I’m aware of how powerful word of mouth promotion is, so I’m going to bite the bullet and do it. I think it’s really important to constantly challenge yourself, both in your writing and your personal life, and this is my challenge for 2014. I’ve just bought your book, Joanna, I’m sure there’ll be lots of confidence-inspiring words of wisdom.

  14. says

    It amazes me how much tension and angst the label introvert can conjure up. I have written articles on the way personality traits influence writers based on the Myers-Briggs model. This has an unambiguous definition of introvert and I fall under this definition.

    I deliver training and this includes courses on how to present which includes speaking. I have learned various useful techniques over the years and could write about this for pages.

    What I hadn’t thought (as a part-time freelance) was that public speaking could earn money! I will be buying the book and look forward to learning more

  15. Scott M says

    I’m actually coming at it from the opposite direction. I’m an extrovert who’s trying to write fiction. Before I got my “grown up” job in logistics, I spent seven years behind the mic at rock stations around the country, including one stint as a morning show host. Daily public speaking to hundreds of thousands.

    My hope is those experiences will find their way into my written voice, now that I’ve hung up the broadcasting one.

  16. says

    I’m getting ready for speaking on topics related to intercultural communication, to boost sales of my book and seminars. I’m comfortable speaking publically but don’t know how to begin getting speaking engagements. I’m based in France, which might make a difference. Does your book cover this?



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