Yep. Jim Rubart‘s two personalities of author and speaker are that intertwined! He was the keynote speaker at the Inland Northwest Writers Conference in March, and I talked about his most recent novel, Book of Days last Wednesday. I had questions about establishing a speaking career (as a sideline), and thought you might want to listen in to our conversation. Thanks for coming by, Jim!
How does a writer become a speaker? Or was it the other way around?
It was the other way around. Kind of. When I was in second grade I was chosen to introduce a PTA meeting at Sand Point Elementary School in Seattle. It went well and I’ve been speaking ever since.
I lack many talents, but writing and speaking were two of the ones God put into my DNA and I loved doing both.
So for me I don’t feel like I ever chose to be a speaker or chose to be a writer. They were wired into my personality when I was born.
How important do you think it is for the average novelist to pursue a side career in public speaking?
I’m one of those who believes writers are born not made. When I was a kid I loved basketball, but at 5’ 11” with football player’s build, it wasn’t in the cards. Same thing with speakers; born, not made. The gift is there or it isn’t. BUT … that’s not to say it can’t be learned. I think anyone can learn to be a competent writer and anyone can learn to be a decent speaker. And it is an excellent way to build a platform and gain recognition for books.
That being said I if would encourage authors to ask two questions before pursuing speaking:
1. Is it fear that’s stopping you from pursuing speaking, or is it something you truly loathe? If it’s fear, step in, take the risk and learn the skill. I believe desire reveals design and design reveals destiny. If you have a desire to speak, then step out of the boat and walk! If you detest the idea of speaking give yourself permission not to speak and take the time and energy you’d devote to speaking and route it into articles or social media.
2. If you do want to speak treat it like you do your writing. You’ve taken years to learn to write well, apply that mentality to speaking. Study the skill. Read books. Join Toastmasters. Get serious about it.
What steps should writers take?
In addition to the steps I suggest above, start small. Speak to groups of three, four, five people and build from there. Also, video yourself then review. It’s amazing what you’ll see by watching yourself. Get a critique group; find another author who wants to speak and give feedback on what’s working and what isn’t.
How did you develop your topics to include the particular ones on your current list?
Let me modidy that famous saying, “When the student is ready the teacher will appear,” and say, “When the topic is needed the speech will appear.” I don’t think about topics until there is a desire for them. Last week I gave a talk for the first time called, “Creating Unique Story Ideas with Spiritual Heft.” I’ve been fortunate that my novel ideas have resonated with people and been called unique (or strange depending on your tastes) so I was asked to talk about how I come up with my ideas and how others can do the same. I loved working on the talk and loved giving it.
What is your favorite thing about speaking?
Seeing light bulbs go off over people’s heads! Hearing from them later that they’ve tried something new or stepped into more freedom after hearing me talk. The famous orator Demosthenes was once asked, “What is the most important part of speaking?” He answered, “Action! Action! Action!” I want to see people’s lives changed. When they step toward change it’s deeply satisfying.
Can you share one interesting story from your speaking career?
A few years ago I was teaching a marketing track at a writing conference—a total of seven hours of teaching. At the end of my final class I gave a five minute version of my talk, “Stepping Out of the Shadows.” Afterward I saw a man standing at the back of the room waiting to talk to me, but there were quite a few people ahead of him and he finally left without his getting a chance to talk. But he left his business card. When everyone had left I turned it over. It said, “Those five minutes where the entire reason I came to this conference. God wanted me to hear what you had to say. I don’t know how to thank you.”
The five minutes made his conference and it made mine as well. To hear that was worth the trip. Words have power. It’s how God chose to bring creation into being. So my goal is to use words in a way that advances His kingdom and sets people free.
Thanks so much, Jim. I know your words challenged me at Inland Northwest.