Yesterday I hit up the Red Clay Writer’s Conference, a small (~60 people) conference happening at Kennesaw State once a year. I’d never been before, but I figured getting out there is an important part of life. I showed up with the idea of learning new tricks and making new friends, and I think I succeeded a little on both fronts despite feeling bad that day.
The first speaker was a professional-looking mother/son team who had written an inspirational book based on a famous coach’s dying speech. That was the point where I realized my cynical streak was alive and well – everyone else was crying at the end of the record speech they showed, but I was waiting. Waiting for the speakers to connect the guy’s (good) advice to how we can improve as writers. Waiting for them to say, don’t give up. You can do it too. But instead, they talked about the difficult process of getting that book published and gave us details on their success. Then they asked us to buy the book.
Later workshops were really great – including an awesome speaker who talked about geography and character, more later – and a couple of great seminars on different kinds of writing. I learned a lot. I made friends. And all day long people talked about the first speaker – bad things, good things, anything and everything people could think to talk about. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.
What do I think? Controversy is good. People talking about you means they know who you are. And promoting yourself is important, especially in the world of writing as publishers and agents (according to rumor) already plan on you doing a good portion of the work there. But. If you’re hired to give a speech to inspire, talk more about the subject-matter – or your audience – then yourself. I for one would have been a lot more excited to buy their book (I didn’t) if they can given a kick-butt speech with the points of the book and then encouraged me to buy it to get more. Instead, I felt like a captive audience to an infomercial, waiting for the moment where they tell me how it will help me…. and never getting it. It was all there – a success story, a famous dying man, words of wisdom to live your life by. All it would have taken is a little more connection.
Which makes me think, how does this apply to my life? How can I connect better? What things can all of us do to make that leap to meet our audience’s needs? It’s easy to start with yourself. It’s better to start (or at least, finish) with your audience.