Top 5 Reasons Nonfiction Authors Should Be Speakers, Too

by | Nov 12, 2012

If you write nonfiction, you might be surprised at the many benefits of doing live speaking engagements.

I’m specifically talking about authors of nonfiction that is instructive, educational or information-based. This isn’t as true for authors of literary nonfiction or memoirs, although I wouldn’t rule it out.

But often, we write these books not just for the potential financial reward, but for lots of other reasons as well, like:

  • Enhancing your authority within your field
  • Gaining access to potential clients or sponsors
  • Creating a “calling card” for consulting or other services
  • Spreading the word on a topic that you’re passionate about

In every one of these cases, live speaking events can have a powerful impact on your work and your income.

If you haven’t considered “taking your show on the road” and speaking to groups, maybe you should give it some thought.

So here are 5 reasons that this might be the best thing you can do for your publishing program. See what you think.

5 Big Benefits of Speaking for Nonfiction Authors

  1. You can meet people you won’t meet online

    Let’s face it: although you may spend a lot of time reading blogs, attending webinars and networking in social media, there are still large parts of the population you won’t meet online.

    Sure, everyone has email, and most people will log into their Facebook account once in a while, but many folks are still not that comfortable with online learning or socializing.

    For instance, if you write about a craft or hobby, there are probably a lot of people who don’t spend hours online looking for information on that topic.

    But at speaking engagements, workshops, presentations and events you can meet people who are more comfortable in the real world, and that’s a big benefit. One way to leverage this exposure is to make sure you have a way to collect email or mail addresses at the event so you don’t lose contact with the people you’ve just spoken to. I often use “response forms” for this reason. More on those in a minute.

  2. You get to try out ideas that aren’t ready for publication yet

    At a live event you can present new material you’re working on, a new way of doing things that might be revolutionary within your field.

    Being able to interact with people about your ideas in a one hour talk might be really valuable, instead of waiting the months it could take to get a book out on the subject.

    And this is another place those “response forms” come into play. You can ask attendees for their opinion of your new material, or if there are things that would make your presentation better. This gives people a direct way to interact with you.

  3. Your authority and prestige will be raised by association with the group you are speaking to.

    If you are invited by a prestigious trade organization or government body, it will help raise your own profile within your community.

    After all, if they want you to talk to their members, you must have something valuable to say, right? All of us make these mostly unconscious calculations all the time.

  4. You get to show more communities how your work can benefit them

    One of the most beneficial parts of giving talks actually takes place long before you walk up to the podium in front of the audience.

    It’s likely you’ll be given a topic or asked to contribute to the theme of the event. This forces you to think about how your information fits into that topic or theme.

    This is a great way to extend the reach of your ideas and to adapt them to more communities of interest within your field, something that might well lead to another book on the topic.

  5. You can repurpose the work you do to prepare for your speaking engagements

    If you have a way to sell products, either online or off, realize that the presentation you are preparing might make a great product for all the people who could not attend the live event.

    After all, workshops, seminars and trade events draw only a small fraction of the total number of people interested in your area of expertise.

    Keeping this in mind while you’re preparing your presentation can pay big dividends. Visual presentations can be turned into video products like webinars and mini-courses. Audio presentations can be made into teleseminars and educational recordings that others will pay for to enhance their own learning.

Taking all these great outcomes into account, you can see how live speaking engagements can help your career as a nonfiction author in many ways.

Of course, the “x-factor” is what you don’t expect: meeting someone in your audience who might order hundreds or thousands of books from you; getting asked to write for the top magazine in your field on the topic of your talk; establishing a peer-to-peer relationship with a top influencer in your field.

If you go, you never know what might happen. So don’t be just an author, reach out for opportunities to turn your expertise into speaking engagements to grow your author platform.

Photo credit: sheilaellen via photopin cc

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Alicia Young

    I meant to say – thank you for the blog post – very useful tips and insight, as always!

  2. Alicia Young

    Hello Joel,

    I’m happy to give free talks, so it’s no deal breaker when an honorarium is not on the table. But I’m surprised to hear back that some organizations (including national ones) do not even allow you to sell the book afterward. So…I can take only postcards? Do a giveaway on top of the talk, to source email addresses or otherwise drive traffic to my site?

    I’m keen to hear how others handle this and whether this no-fee/ no sales protocol is the norm here, please. I’m happy to get out there and do the leg work, but surely there is a tipping point as whether these talks are worth the time vs. say, Facebook ads.

    Thank you,

    Alicia Young
    Author, The Savvy Girl’s Guide to Grace: small touches with big impact – at home, work & in love.
    WINNER, 2013 New York Book Festival: Best New How-To/Self Help.

  3. Jenifer Joy Madden

    Great advice. Just recently came out of my shell and began speaking in advance of publishing my book. One great reason to talk to people “live” is that you can tap into their senses. I talk about boosting creativity and one smallish group I spoke to loved smelling the lavendar I passed around.

  4. Judy Baker

    Many valuable ideas. Many of my clients are paid speakers and all of them are published authors. Speaking and publishing work together to increase the value and visibility of the author and each other. Think of your book as an extended business card – it is a testimony to your expertise. When an audience likes you, they want to take you home with them, that is where your books make it possible for fans to own a piece of your knowledge and you can sell them at the back of the room. One client sold over $1400 of her programs and books after giving a presentation, and would have sold even more except she ran out of books!

  5. Roger C. Parker

    Dear Joel:
    I really enjoyed this post and–especially–the comments it provoked.

    I’m surprised, however, that podcasts and teleseminars as speaking “opportunities” didn’t play a bigger role in the comments.

    Teleseminars, especially, can present great speaking opportunities–with many of the interactive benefits of live evens–but without the need for travel, parking, and other time-consuming hassles.

    My recommendation; challenge yourself to deliver a “like clockwork” teleseminar on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis by publicly announcing the continuing event.

    You’ll be surprised how quickly your comfort level, delivery, and ability to communicate will improve–helping you develop topics that can be part of your face-to-face speaking portfolio.

    The hardest part is making the commitment to do it!

  6. Mike @

    I agree, never just be an author but also it is important to reach out opportunity through speaking. It will improved your confidence and also a great exposure for business as well.

  7. JLOakley

    I’ve been giving talk on historical subjects for a number of years. Funny, though, lately I’m giving a lot of talks on the history behind my historical novel TREE SOLDIER. There is high interest in the CCCs and that’s helping the novel.

    P.S. I really enjoy speaking, though I was so shy as a girl. Just gave a talk which I hope eventually will become a non-fiction book. Have more research to do.

  8. Ernie Zelinski


    I agree with giving “free” speeches to get better known.

    I fact, two years ago I got conned (that’s a story in itself) into giving the opening keynote speech at the Edmonton Toastmaster’s District Convention, even though I had never attended any Toastmaster meeting or had ever taken any professional speaking training in my life.

    I just followed the same motto that I have followed for self-publishing:

    Public Speaking — Do It Badly But at Least Do It!

    A short time later I placed a blog post about this on along with 10 great quotes about public speaking and a link to a great blog post that Tim Ferris had posted about how to make a good speech.

    You can read the blog post here.

    This is likely my favorite quote about speaking:

    “When both the speaker and the audience are confused, the speech has been profound.”
    — Oscar Wilde

    Ernie Z.

  9. Bethany Macklin

    Great post. :) I would add that speaking provides the opportunity to evaluate how well your topic resonates with your audience. If you are experienced enough, you can also adjust your slant, tone, etc., until you find the pulse of your audience. Then transfer THAT to your writing!

  10. Alicia Young

    Hello Joel,
    Lovely to meet you over the weekend.
    Great points on a topic many of us to need invest time in. I’m intimidated-but-inspired by the sales figures of the others posters – congrats to you!

    I’d add…check out your local Toastmasters’ chapter. It’s free as a guest, and they encourage potential members to visit several different places, as they each have their own vibe and slant. It’s a lot of fun!
    ps: Will be in touch in coming weeks to book you for a consult. The Savvy Girl’s Guide to Grace is coming along, but the process probably needs a tune up.

    • Joel Friedlander


      Thanks so much for coming to the presentation over the weekend. I think you can tell how much I enjoy them. Great tip about Toastmasters, didn’t know that.

  11. Roger C. Parker

    Dear Joel:
    Great post–the turning point in my life was when I moved from the back of the room to the front of the room after Looking Good in Print was published.

    Your summary of the benefits of speaking was on target.

    Your point about “it takes only one” to make an event a success resonated with me. Only a handful attended the press conference announcing Looking Good in Print, yet one of them did–indeed–sell over 100K copies to the seminar and workshop markets.

    BTW, I hope you address Ernie Zelinski’s comment (and, congratulations, Ernie, on your book’s great sales record!).

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks for that, Roger, and that’s fantastic validation for the idea that “it only takes one!”

      Although many authors don’t enjoy public speaking, I’ve found it a refreshing change of pace from my usual position behind a keyboard and really enjoy the interactions I’ve had at these events.

  12. Michael N. Marcus

    Good writers may be bad speakers, or uncomfortable speakers. Public speaking is more like stage acting than writing.

    I was a bashful child and was never confident speaking “at the front of the room” in school. As a teenager, it was tough for me to call girls for dates. One time before I got my driver’s license, my mother drove a girl and me on a date. Most of the conversation was between the girl and my mother. As a new journalist in the late 60s, I often called people I was supposed to interview at times when they were unlikely to answer the phone.

    I am much more comfortable carefully crafting sentences and paragraphs with a keyboard, than speaking spontaneously to groups strangers.

    A few years ago I had to give a business speech, and — while too old to have stage fright — I was very apprehensive.

    I planned to join Toastmasters International to get some practice and advice, but my speech was coming up too soon.

    I forced myself to start conversations with strangers — initially simple talk about the weather with cashiers — and over a period of weeks I found I could talk to almost anyone about anything.

    I will never be a great orator, and still prefer to type, but if I have to function as a public speaker, I can.

    Most people can probably do it, to.

    Michael N. Marcus

    NEW: self-publishing company parody,

  13. Ernie Zelinski

    I agree with everything you say about the benefits that come from public speaking.

    The catch is that marketing is just as important in getting great speaking gigs as it is in making a book a true bestseller (at least 100,000 copies sold).

    In fact, I would say it is harder to market oneself as a speaker to get the really good gigs than it is to market a book to make it a true bestseller.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author, Innovator, and Prosperity Life Coach
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 165,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    • Joel Friedlander

      True enough, Ernie. However, many self-publishers could do themselves and their books a lot of good even taking on speaking gigs that are free and local. There’s simply no replacement for the in-person contact you can make at these events.



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