Vicki Hinze © 2003-2011
Since my novels have been getting published, I have started getting requests from various groups–some writing groups and some non-writing groups–to give lectures or workshops. I wouldn’t mind doing them, but I have no idea how to plan for them. How much time do you allot for preparing for workshops and/or lectures?
I suppose you could go about determining this in several ways, but at some point you need to consider how you go about speaking. Are you the type who makes a formal presentation–meaning, you write a speech? Or do you simply jot notes and speak off the top of your head? Only you know what you need to do so that you feel prepared to speak intelligently and comfortably on a given topic.
I work both ways, but the longer the lecture or workshop, the less formally I prepare. My rationale is that of being a listener. For a short while, I’m attentive to formal lectures. If a workshop goes on for more than an hour, I’m less attentive. Conversely, I’m content to “chat” for eons. 🙂 So I prepare from the perspective of a listener.
So for an hour or so lecture/workshop, I’ll prepare in essence a speech. For the all-day workshops, I jot an outline of topics to cover and notes then speak off the top of my head.
Some authors work in the exact opposite manner. The longer they talk, the more structured their approach. You have to do a little self-exploration and see what feels most comfortable to you so that you increase your potential for best serving those to whom you are speaking.
The next consideration is topic. If you’re speaking on craft, are you going to give attendees handouts? If so, you need to estimate preparation time on them and time to have copies made or pages collated–that sort of thing. Try to estimate the time required from start until finish. Be careful not to underestimate here. (That’s easy to do.)
Preparation time on handouts can vary wildly. Necessary time could be an insignificant amount or an amount that requires significant advance planning. For example, this Saturday, I’m doing a workshop/lecture in Orlando. I’ll be speaking for 1-1/2 hours. The handout for that lecture covers my topic and a lot of related articles that the time allotted won’t let me explore deeply in the lecture. Still, they’ll help explain things to the attendees. So there are articles in the handout that are relevant but that have to stand alone and not just supplement what I am going to say. The handout is 56 pages long. It took a substantial length of time to prepare it and more time to have it copied and bound.
Now, for this specific conference I had to prepare the talk and the handouts. Preparation time was a week. (If I hadn’t already written some of the articles included in the handout, it would have taken longer.)
Also on this particular conference, there are two days of travel time to consider, as well as the actual conference time. So the time cost to me of doing this lecture is about two weeks.
Conversely, I spoke for an hour to a group of writers two weeks ago, where the total preparation time was two days. It was local, based on a workshop I’ve done before, and I had the material ready. All I had to do was have the existing handout copied, review my lecture notes, attend, and give the lecture.
Speaking to non-writing groups is different. It’s been my experience that you must find a relevant way to connect with the group. Example. I spoke to a group of Rotarians for an hour at one of their special gatherings. This group was composed mostly of business men and women. So to link and connect with them, I spoke on how a writer’s mind works. I focused on the creative side and the business side, with heavy emphasis on the business. That was of interest to them and they could relate to it.
It took a little homework to prepare–to find the connection and then to write a speech that I hoped would intrigue and capture their interest and not bore them to death. I estimated the preparation time at two days, but it actually took three.
So it really depends on who you’re talking to or with, how formal the function is or should be, what you want to say, how you go about saying what you want to say, and how familiar you are with your topic. I’ve done many workshops/lectures or seminars that required me to hit the books for a week to get up to speed and refreshed on topics before I felt comfortable speaking about them.
I’d caution you to be sure to allot yourself a day or so as padding for things that crop up, and to remember to include travel time and practice time, if needed, so that you walk in feeling prepared and confident that you’ll be able to answer questions that pop up that you might not have considered. Also, be confident enough to say, “Gee, I don’t know the answer to that, but you can probably find an answer at XYZ.” There’s not a thing in the world wrong with that admission. It’s empowering, actually. Because no one person can answer all questions, particularly in an industry as dynamic as ours.
Conferences obviously require more time than local lectures. It took nearly three weeks to prepare for the recent RWA conference. I did two lectures there and met with a significant number of writers to talk over personal career challenges they were experiencing. Both workshops had handouts and open question and answer segments. So I had to do some intense homework on the industry and current events just prior to the conference.
Personally, I find it less disruptive to my schedule to lecture or do workshops for writers than for other groups, even though I do a lot of lectures at schools–kindergarten through college–and for other groups (booksellers, libraries, veteran’s groups, newspapers, benefits for the cancer society and/or groups focusing on domestic violence and/or abuse).
The reason isn’t that speaking to one group is easier than the other, but a matter of preparation levels. Writers understand writers and they way they think, the way they work, and their schedules. We have our own jargon and shorthand, so to speak. Writers don’t care if you stumble here and there when talking to them. They’re more interested in what you are sharing than in your presentation techniques for sharing them. That removes a lot of the “you’re representing yourself and all authors here” feeling you carry when lecturing to non-writers.
I’ve been doing these “talks” for a long time, and I’ll share this insight: It takes time, effort, and planning to do lectures. It takes time away from your writing and your family. And you’ll receive more requests than you can ever fulfill. So you have understand that and accept it. Resolve to do the talks you can, share what you can at them, and try not to beat yourself up over having to say no to the others. That’s the hard part because you’d like to help everyone who asks.
Look at your writing schedule and your other commitments–personal and professional. Determine how many lectures/workshops you can do (don’t forget to consider what type!) without putting unfair demands on yourself, or demands that put you in the position of doing less than the best job you’re capable of doing.
Understand that things happen that are out of your control. (Example. Last year I had some serious medical challenges and had to cancel six months’ worth of commitments that I’m having to try to make up this year. It makes for hectic moments and truthfully some hectic months.) So schedule yourself some breathing time, too. Some “just in case” time. And if you get jammed, you just do the best you can.
Most of all, remember why you’re doing these lectures and workshops. To share. That’s a good thing. Overcommitting can make you tense and irritable and tempt you into forgetting the good in that sharing. It’s up to you to preserve and protect it.