When I read my first scholarly paper to a room of academics (there were barely a dozen seated among the rows of chairs but it felt like hundreds), I learned to my dismay that I was terrified of speaking in public. I held my six pages in my hand and stood at the podium trembling, my voice faltering, for at least twelve minutes before my terror evaporated and I sounded just like anyone else. Unfortunately, I was allotted ten minutes maximum to read my paper.
First, we will be asked to give talks or appear on panels and read a few paragraphs of our work. We have listened to the words in our head for months, perhaps years, but we may have never heard them read aloud. If you are going to make any public appearances, learn to read your book aloud.
When I am asked to read, I choose a passage from my most current work and read it aloud several times, both for timing and cadence. And I do mean aloud. I stand in the middle of the living room and read loud enough to project across the room, through the hall, and into the kitchen. I read the passage aloud at least three times. You can't count on having a microphone.
I also choose a passage that contains some suspense but doesn't give away anything important about the plot. I can adapt a longer passage by eliminating one or two paragraphs or a few sentences to bring together what I think are the most captivating scenes. I mark these in one copy of the book that I use for all appearances.
I never assume I will know what to read when I show up for the event. I always practice in advance. No one wants to hear me mumble, stumble, or mutter about skipping a few words. And no one wants to watch me flip through pages wondering where I should go next.
If I read typed pages, I make sure to dog-ear the top right-hand corners to make it easy to turn the page. No one wants to watch me lick my fingers to get a grip on the page to separate it from the ones that follow.
Second, have a photographer (professional or amateur) take a good photograph of you, with or without makeup. If you think you'll use this photograph for book covers, publicity mailings, and more, find a professional who will provide the makeup artist if you need help with this. Make sure you have the rights to use the photographs however you want. Be sure to get the correct attribution for publication.
Third, consider the wardrobe you have and what you will wear to panels and conferences. You don't have to buy anything expensive, but you may want to rethink your favorite pair of jeans or sweats. If you write a series set in India, as I do, you might want to wear khurtas in warmer weather, or a nice Indian shawl in winter. If you write westerns, consider a nice pair of red cowboy boots. The idea is to have a wardrobe that is a step up from your ordinary day wear or one that illustrates your interests as a writer. Dressing reasonably well is a sign of respect for your audience.
Fourth, design and order a simple business card. The fancier the card, the more likely you will have to redesign it as your tastes and publications change. Keep a supply of cards in your purse and hand them out whenever you have to make a note or give contact information.
These lessons for polishing an image may seem obvious, but like many others I never knew how hard it would be to read six typed pages to a group of strangers. I learned. And I remind myself whenever I stand in front of an audience that these people whom I've never met came to listen to me and they want me to succeed. That will take you far in getting over the jitters and making a solid presentation and a good impression.