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Write On! Features: How To Prepare For A Talk by Jilly Henderson-Long

by Jilly Henderson-Long

I’ve been lucky enough to do a number of talks at schools and writing groups. As a writer, I find this an exhilarating and fulfilling experience, yet only last year, prior to delivering two talks to two separate Year Four classes at a local school, I still found the prospect of it somewhat terrifying. And, just like before, I wondered afterwards why I got so worked up about it. Having said that, I know that I will still get just as worked up next time I’m invited and it really isn’t necessary.

The first talk I was invited to do was with Croydon Writers. I’d been a ‘casual’ member of this enthusiastic group of authors and poets for a couple of years, but it had never crossed my mind they’d want me to do a talk for the members. Then, when my first children’s book, Yucketypoo – The Monster That Grew And Grew, was published, the resulting local publicity led to me receiving an email asking if I’d like to do just that.

Up to this point, I’d already accrued a bit of an idea on how to present myself, as I’d previously been a Creative Writing tutor (for four years), so I met up with the group leaders and was advised about timing, the points to raise and what kind of questions I’d need to prepare answers for. We also agreed a fee, something I’d not even considered. When I delivered the 40-minute talk, I loved how my audience seemed to hang on every word I said! Because I’d thought ahead, I had answers ready for when the questions began. I was still as nervous as hell, but it was a huge success and the group invited me back to do several more.

Naturally, as my experience and confidence grew, my methods of delivering such a talk evolved. So, here are a few tried and tested hints that may help if you find yourself called upon to share your passion for the written word.

Firstly – understand your target audience and know your subject matter backwards  You may be the writer, but there’s more to it than that. What motivated the story? What points are you trying to put across? Do you think you achieved that? Whether it is a poem, story, book or play, you need to know it inside out and upside down. You need to read it, read any accompanying notes associated with it and then re-read the piece itself so that you are looking at it from the perspective of both writer and reader. Similarly, if your talk is about writing itself, remind yourself how you got into it, why you do it, what struggles you may or may not have had in establishing it, what your plans are for the future and how you intend to achieve those plans. Don’t overthink it. Remember, you are appealing to other people with the same interests as you. They are writers, too, so you have to find a balance between you and your listeners.

Secondly – make a note of any research done in order to fabricate it and give it an element of reality. Where the Yucketypoo books were concerned, I wanted to introduce children to the care of the environment, so I did a great deal of research about it and how simple actions (such as throwing rubbish into a bin, for example) can make such a difference.

Thirdly – imagine yourself as a listener at such an event and think of what questions you would ask. If it is possible, attend an event and listen to the questions generally put to the writer. By looking at it from every perspective, you should eventually get a stock of ready-made answers. And if someone happens to ask you a question you’re unable to answer, don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know, but will look into it. You’re only human after all!

Fourthly – make sure you rehearse the talk, before a mirror if possible, and that its length does not exceed the number of minutes you’ve been allocated, remembering to allow for a question-and-answer session at the end. You might feel a bit stupid doing this, but you’ll be surprised at how much it helps during the actual event.

Finally – it may seem like a lot to remember, so here’s the best tip of all: get some prompt cards.  These are postcard-size sheets of lined card and they can be bought at most stationers. Write down the estimated order in which you intend to deliver the talk, then copy the important points onto the cards. For example: Card 1 – introduction and thanks for being invited to do the talk.  Card 2 – a very short, potted history of former career/hobby.  Card 3 – a short synopsis of the subject matter, etc. Even if you don’t use all the cards, at least you’ll have a tangible idea of how the talk is progressing.

Being asked to do a talk of any kind, even a funeral eulogy or wedding speech, may seem like a huge undertaking. You feel you must live up to everyone’s expectations, your own most of all, and are terrified you’ll make a fool of yourself. You also question your own knowledge and dread falling over words but, at the end of the day, it’s all about believing in yourself because, if you don’t, your listeners will soon pick up on that. Love what you do and why you do it, because nothing is as inspiring as someone else’s enthusiasm. Good Luck!


Jilly wrote her first book at age seven. Her first published piece came when she was 12. As well as running Creative Writing groups, her work has appeared across a wide range of media. She has published three children’s books and several poetry collections. Her hobbies include photography and reading. She lives in Westcliff on Sea with husband Steve. They have eight grandchildren.

Connect with Jilly on X (formerly Twitter): @Jilly52144833


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Love what you do and why you do it, because nothing is as inspiring as someone else’s enthusiasm!