Beyond What You Know: Teach Yourself How to Present

October 2007 Family Fun Magazine

By Sage Cohen

Chances are, you’ve been to a lecture, presentation, writing conference, workshop or other instructive writing event in the past few months. Why did you select that event? What were you hoping to learn? Did the experience meet your expectations? How did the speaker or teacher communicate information to you? Was the technique effective? Did you come home with an expanded horizon and a heavier writing toolbox?

If you’re able to answer the questions above, you’re well on your way to standing up in front of an audience and sharing your own expertise with them. Sounds scary? Maybe it will be; new experiences can be scary. But don’t let that stop you! Once we do something a few times, it becomes familiar. Eventually, we start to see ourselves as experts-and once we do, the rest of the world will see us as experts, too.

So how do you make the leap from reading this column to presenting to a group of people? One step at a time!

  1. Brainstorm a list of the writing-related topics you know best and love most.
  2. For each topic, list your related accolades, such as: got a master’s degree in this area; have published three pieces on this topic (or in this genre); won an award for this type of writing, etc. Writing down these affirmations of your expertise may help boost your confidence as you consider the next steps.
  3. Choose the topic you feel most comfortable with and brainstorm a list of places where you might present it, such as: at your child’s school; through the adult education curriculum at your community center or place of religious worship; at a local bookstore, writer’s organization or writing conference–you get the picture!
  4. Prioritize your list and research contact information for the person who organizes such events at each organization you’d like to approach.
  5. Write a short and sweet pitch letter that explains who you are, what your qualifications are, what you’d like to present, and how you expect this will benefit said organization’s membership. You can use this pitch for email, snail mail and verbal communications as appropriate.
  6. Start at the top of your list and keep pitching until you get a “Yes”!

When deciding how to structure your event, consider what works well for you as an audience member when you attend similar events. Then try to create an experience for listeners that you would appreciate if you were in their shoes. On the day of your event, come prepared with your attractive handouts, business cards, a mailing list and flyers about other upcoming classes or speaking engagements you’re offering.

With one speaking event under your belt, you’ll have new and impressive proof of your expertise to add to your next presentation pitch; and your momentum as a public speaker will be in motion.

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Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic, forthcoming from Writer’s Digest Books, and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. Her poetry and essays appear in journals and anthologies including Cup of Comfort for Writers, Oregon Literary Review, Greater Good and VoiceCatcher. In 2006, she won first prize in the Ghost Road Press annual poetry contest. Sage holds an MA in creative writing from New York University where she was awarded a New York Times Foundation fellowship. Sage teaches Poetry for the People and Personal Essays That Get Published.

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