Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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November 19, 2018

Being a Cool Cat While Making Presentations

Cathy Lamb

Let’s talk about how to be a cool cat.

Specifically, let’s talk about how to be a cool cat when you’re making a presentation, giving a speech, or reading from your book.

Think: Props.

Yes, props.  No, you’re not on the theatre’s stage, but you are on stage. So bring props.

For example, last night I presented at Powell’s Books. I was talking about the “what if” questions I asked myself to help me come up with a plotline for my new book, The Man She Married.

I wrote out the questions below, on strips of paper, and had my husband come up in front of the audience. I made him read them, aloud, one at a time. No, he didn’t know he was going to be subjected to this terror and he MIGHT have rolled his eyes at me.

Yes, I have an odd and quirky and twisty sense of humor.

It was pretty funny.

Now, I realize you all may not have someone who is willing to do something quite this weird, so here are a few other props I’ve brought to my speeches/presentations:

My journals.

When I present, I will almost always bring out the journals I write and scribble in while writing my books. Each book gets about four to five journals as I swear/cry/have temper tantrums while writing it. People love to see how a book is written, from beginning to end. So, I show them the beginning – my journals.

I also show them the inside of a journal or two.

The first photo is from my latest book The Man She Married. I was focusing on why people lie.

The next photo is for my upcoming book All About Evie. I was trying to figure out what Evie’s kitchen looked like.

I have also shown my audiences a (very poorly drawn) picture of one of my main characters to show how I developed her.

The one below is of Jaden Bruxelle from my book A Different Kind of Normal. See all that scribbling?

That’s all the “stuff” I know about her – what she looks like, her job as a hospice nurse, how she uses herbs and spices, and how she grows the same flowers as her ancestors, in the garden that her grandmother began.

I have also made notes about her family. She has a mother who is a soap opera star, a brother who is a florist, and a sister who is a drug addict.


People love to see how writers develop characters. This is one concrete way to show them.

What about bringing a scroll to show?

This is a list of everything I had to research to write The Language of Sisters. It’s a looooong list and when I let it fall, it was about four feet long.

The people in the workshop thought it was interesting because it gave them a clear look at what it takes to research a book with any historical element in it.

People love props. They love when you take something out of a bag. They love wondering what’s in the box. They love looking at different items. If you ask them later what your speech was about, they will tell you about the props you brought.

So, look around. What can you bring to your speech to show your audience who you are, who the person behind the books is? What exemplifies you or your office or your writing desk or your book or your characters?

What inspired you to write your story? A newspaper article? A portrait? A vase? A story from your grandma? A cookbook? Bring it. Hold it up. Smile.

What does your writing process involve? Sticky notes? Bring a board full of your sticky notes and talk about how they helped guide you through your book.

Do you use an outline? Bring the outline. No, it doesn’t matter if it’s a mess, people simply want to see your organizational process.

Do you use magazine photographs of men/women/children to help you see your character? Glue those to tagboard and hold it up. 

Do you write in long hand? Show them your long hand on that yellow legal pad and tell why it works for you. 

Do you do anything to settle your mind before you write? Meditation? Yoga? Painting? Enlarge photos of you in those activities and bring them. Tell why these activities help you as a writer.

Using props will help you with your speech.  You will feel calmer knowing you’re talking around and about an object(s).

There’s also something about having an object/photo/something funny that helps you center yourself around your speech.

Remember: You are a cool cat. You can do this.

Have you ever tried using props for speaking? Any tips for us?

 *     *     *     *     *

Cathy Lamb’s twelfth book, The Man She Married, was recently released. She is working on her 13th novel while slugging down too much coffee. She recently bought a box of chocolate truffles for nutritional purposes only, of course, chocolate being good for you and all.

25 comments on “Being a Cool Cat While Making Presentations”

  1. Love this and appreciate you sharing great ideas that would help readers, or potential ones, connect and feel involved and like they get to know the author beyond just the book.

    1. Tracy, thank you! I think it's always fun for readers to know the writer - even if just a little bit - who wrote the book you recently read. It does make the reading experience a little more personal...and a little better!

  2. Great advice, Cathy! When I'm a member of an audience -- whatever the topic -- I'm more interested if the speaker engages my sight as well as my hearing. (what our high school teachers used to call "visual aids.") And I'm much more likely to remember what was said if I have a few visual "hooks" to hang it on.

    1. Yes, Kay, a visual hook. You've got the fancy vocabulary for it. Some people learn better from listening, some seeing, some by moving things around. So if you're speaking and using props, you've got a couple of them.

  3. Kudos to your husband for being such a good sport! Also, those questions reminded me of the time I actually was on the run from the FBI...with my husband. Fun times. We ran from Texas to Alaska, where I bought a pair of boots. I often wear the boots to a book signing or reading and people love it. Great ideas here 🙂 Thanks.

  4. Thanks for all the great tips on presenting/reading and about your creative process. I keep a journal folder to talk about stuff to myself and Pinterest photos, but it's not the same as having a book-specific journal. If only I had the patience to do that.

    1. Julie, and each author's process is so different. They really are. So it's always interesting to audiences to hear about YOURS. What you do and don't do, what works for you, what doesn't. I love hearing authors speak.

  5. As a teacher, I've always used props—even if it was just a yardstick while I walked around the classroom and talked about the necessity of doing homework when a classroom of students blew off an assignment. My favorite props are those involving magic tricks. The first time I included a magic trick in a lecture, my students paid such good attention to me when I was giving routine lectures for the next week, that I decided I'd build a "trick" into each week. Easy to do, since all magic is based in mathematics. It's a bit harder for me to do when speaking about writing.

    1. Spot on, Fae. I'm reading a book by James Kakalios called The Physics of Superheroes where he uses Superman to calculate the density of Krypton. (15 times that of earth). He developed the course because students found the typical examples -- surprise, surprise -- boring. Magic sounds really cool; wish my trigonometry teacher had used it.

    1. Rick, thank you. Yes, book mark it. And when you talk about those two upcoming books, you'll know, now, to start thinking of "things" to bring to hold your audience's attention. You can plan ahead.

  6. Thanks, Cathy. Great post! My last presentation was to Delta Kappa Gamma (women's honor society). I took the giant binder with the draft of my first mystery, Leave A Good-Looking Corpse and showed the audience all of the marginalia, stickies, paste-ins and deletions. It worked! People love seeing you pull that rabbit out of your hat.

    1. James, exactly. People love to see "stuff." Most people do not present with props, so your speech is then different. Unique. And those props hold people's attention.

  7. When I testified before my state's senate judicial proceedings committee, I brought some props to try and hit it home why we needed to add tooth to a law.


  8. Super post, Cathy! I've listened to dozens and dozens (maybe more than a hundred?) of speakers giving writing workshops and love the ones who bring props. Need more blogs on all facets of giving effective presentations.

  9. I do presentations at assisted living homes and the residents LOVE when I bring my box of props. Depending on my subject to present, I bring wood carvings, the globe, stuffed beany baby animals and birds, books, photographs and lots and lots of personal stories.

    This is a great post. Thanks for sharing. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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