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How to project public speaking confidence

Your audience will form an impression of you before you say one word. Make it a good impression.

These tips will help you project a confident speaking presence in those critical moments before you begin your presentation:

1. Walk with purpose to the lectern. Don’t amble.

2. Get your speaking notes in order. (Using hard copy? Always have each page numbered so you don’t lose your place if the papers get jumbled at the last minute.)

3. Breathe.

4. Stand straight and place your weight evenly over both feet. This stance will help you feel “grounded” and – most important – it will put you in control of the room.

5. Using a microphone? You should have tested the microphone in advance, but double check it now. Use your best voice to say, “Good morning/afternoon/evening.” Do not blow into the mike. Do not tap it.  Do not say “Testing, testing, testing”. Any doubts about the volume? Simply look to the far back of the audience and ask “Is the sound good?” (Wise speakers get friendly with the venue’s AV person before any presentation.)

6. Pause. And breathe.

Now (and not one moment sooner), you are ready. You’re in a position of strength. Begin to speak with confidence.

Adapted from How To Write & Give A Speech (St. Martin’s Press, 2014), “A how-to classic” (The Washington Post)

For freelance writers (& staff writers/speechwriters/editors who want to freelance) … get a jumpstart

If you’re a writer and you’d like to build your writing business: Don’t forget to register for #ASJAdc (Aug 28, DC)

ASJA A Capital Event is next week. DC’s many media companies, associations, government agencies, foundations and other organizations offer lots of opportunities for freelancers. Don’t miss out on this event in the nation’s capital on Friday, August 28 at the National Press Club.

It’s not too late to register. Compare ASJA’s low registration fee with any other conference. At an ASJA conference, your registration money works for you. (Already an ASJA member? Take advantage of the discounted registration price for members here. )

A very cool bonus:

On Saturday there will be a organized tours for ASJA attendees of A Capital Event. Attendees can participate in a free tour of the Library of Congress or a tour of the Newseum at a discounted price (pre-registration required).Get all the details on Saturday tours here.

How to find local quotes that personalize a speech

Going to give an out-of-town presentation? Find a quote that’s tied to the geographic area where you’ll speak.

Plenty of websites and books can provide quotes about cities, states and regions – both in the United States and throughout the world. But you can personalize any presentation by noting what inspirational quotations you might see on public buildings as you travel through your destination city.

Some examples:

* Public libraries often have motivational quotations engraved above their front doors. These can be golden. Just jot one down and work it into the opening moments of your speech. You’ll build audience rapport upfront. (When I lived in Brooklyn, I got good ideas from the various branches of the Brooklyn Public Library: )

* Look for inscriptions on municipal buildings (the courthouse or city hall, maybe the train station)

* Monuments and statues give important clues to local history.

* Public parks can offer a clever theme.

* Look for historic plaques, honoring what occurred at a particular location. (A nice touch? Get a photo to include in your PowerPoint.)

* Houses of worship often post a rotating series of memorable lines to attract the attention of passers-by. Yesterday in Philadelphia I chanced upon this quote posted near the doorway of St Stephen’s Episcopal Church:

“It’s worth it to be honest, although it doesn’t always pay off. It pays to be dishonest, but it’s never worth it.”

Keep your eyes open. In any city or town, you can find local references that will resonate with your audiences.

Bonus: Your personalized local line might get great attention on social media

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“Authors, keep your copyrights. You earned them.”

Today I received the following email from The Authors Guild. I’ve been an AG member since the early days of How To Write & Give A Speech, which was published by St. Martin’s Press in 1984 and has been continuously in print since that original pub date. I value the information I receive as an AG member and thought I’d pass along this copyright information to other authors and would-be authors.

Dear Authors Guild Member,

Today we published the fifth installment of our Fair Contract Initiative, “Authors, Keep Your Copyrights. You Earned Them.” Most trade publishers do not ask for an outright assignment of all exclusive rights under copyright; their contracts usually call for copyright to be in the author’s name. But it’s another story in the world of university presses. Most scholarly publishers routinely present their authors with the single most draconian, unfair clause we routinely encounter, taking all the exclusive rights to an author’s work as if the press itself authored the work. You can access the post here


How to improve your speaking style: use the power of rhetorical devices

Consider trying one new speechwriting technique each time you give a presentation.

For starters:

Begin a series of sentences with the same word or the same phrase. Strong verbs prove particularly effective. This speechwriting technique creates a powerful rhythm: making it easier for you to deliver … easier for an audience to follow … and easier for the media (traditional or social) to quote.

When Winston Churchill spoke in the House of Commons in the summer of 1940, he used this rhetorical device:

“We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air … we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Freelance writers, speechwriters, consultants: How much should you charge?

For a thorough and analytical approach to setting rates, read:

What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants (second edition), by Laurie Lewis

This is not a quick read with glib answers. You will need to read/work/think at least a full two hours to put this pricing process into place. Keep your eye on the results: You will get a return on your reading investment.

It’s a new week. How can you improve your PowerPoint?

Consider studying the work of Edward R. Tufte, “the world’s leading analyst of graphic information” (Martin Kemp, Nature) … “the Leonardo da Vinci of data” (The New York Times) … “the Galileo of graphics” (Business Week).

I keep these three Tufte books in my professional library and recommend them highly:

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

Envisioning Information

Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative

I recently taught a one-day presentation skills workshop in Washington DC and several attendees asked “How can I improve my PowerPoint?”  I gave them practical tips to apply right away (i.e., Don’t justify that right margin!), but I also urged them to study Tufte. I’ll urge you to do the same thing.

Please don’t expect to casually browse through one of these books for 10 minutes and grab 10 quick tips for an instant PPT makeover. It doesn’t work that way. Read slowly. Put the book down. Think about what you read. Look at your own PowerPoint presentations with fresh eyes. Revise. Then expand your horizons: Look for related visual lessons in your everyday life.


Repeat again.

Kudos to award winners of SEJ’s journalism contest: the world’s largest awards program for journalism on environmental topics

The Society of Environmental Journalists is proud to present the winners of the 2014-2015 Awards for Reporting on the Environment. SEJ’s journalism contest is the world’s largest and most comprehensive awards for journalism on environmental topics.SEJ honors this year’s winners Wed., Oct. 7, at a gala ceremony at the Embassy Suites and Convention Center in Norman, Oklahoma, in conjunction with SEJ’s 25th Annual Conference. 

Kevin Carmody Award for Outstanding In-depth Reporting, Large Market

First Place

“Big Oil, Bad Air” by Lisa Song, David Hasemyer, Paul Horn, Zahra Hirji, Susan White, Sabrina Shankman, Marcus Stern, Hannah Robbins, David Martin Davies for InsideClimate News; Jim Morris, Ben Wieder, Alan Suderman, Jamie Smith Hopkins, Rosalind Adams, David Heath, Eleanor Bell, Alex Cohen, Chris Zubak-Skees for The Center for Public Integrity; Gregory Gilderman, Neil Katz, Faisal Azam, Eric Jankstrom, Shawn Efran, Katie Wiggin for The Weather Channel

Second Place

“Mining Misery” by Rakteem Katakey, Rajesh Kumar Singh and Tom Lasseter, for Bloomberg News and

Third Place

“Deadly DuPont Leak” by Lise Olsen, Mark Collette and Karen Chen, for the Houston Chronicle

Honorable Mention

“Broken Water System” by Garance Burke, Jason Dearen and Richard Pienciak, for The Associated Press,

Honorable Mention

“Politics of Poison ” by David Heath and Rebecca Williams, for The Center for Public Integrity, Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, and Michigan Radio

Kevin Carmody Award for Outstanding In-depth Reporting, Small Market

First Place

“Oil Trains in Oregon” by Rob Davis, for The Oregonian/OregonLive

Second Place

“Up In Flames” by John Tedesco, Jennifer Hiller, Joseph Kokenge, Kim Man Hui and Mike Fisher, for San Antonio Express-News

Third Place

“How Cancer Came to the Acreage” by Sharon Lerner, for The Nation

Beat Reporting, Large Market

First Place

“History, Technology, Politics and Impact of Solar Power” by Peter Fairley, for MIT Technology Review magazine, IEEE Spectrum magazine

Second Place

“New Voices, New Angles – Attempts to Broaden Coverage on the Climate Crisis” by Jason Margolis, for PRI’s The World

Third Place

“Long Island Environmental Coverage” by Jennifer Barrios, for Newsday

Outstanding Beat Reporting, Small Market

First Place

“Reporting on Oregon’s Environment” by Rob Davis, for The Oregonian/OregonLive

Second Place

“Beat Reporting in Maryland” by Tim Wheeler, for The Baltimore Sun and

Third Place

“Texas Beat Reporting” by Asher Price, for Austin American-Statesman

Honorable Mention

“Wildfire and Drought in California” by Amy Quinton, for Capital Public Radio

Honorable Mention

“Energy Reporting” by Reid Frazier, for The Allegheny Front, WESA, WPSU, WQLN

Outstanding Feature Story

First Place

“Galapagos” by Tim Howard, for Radiolab, podcast and over 500 NPR member stations

Second Place

“Meltdown: Terror at the Top of the World” by Sabrina Shankman, for InsideClimate News

Third Place

“Losing Ground” by Bob Marshall, Brian Jacobs and Al Shaw, for ProPublica & The Lens

Honorable Mention

“Broken Landscape: Confronting India’s Water-Energy Choke Point” by Sean Peoples, Michael Miller, Jennifer Turner and Keith Schneider, for New Security Beat & Circle of Blue websites

Honorable Mention

“How We Can Tame Overlooked Wild Plants to Feed the World” by Hillary Rosner, for Wired magazine

Outstanding Environmental Photojournalism

First Place

“Coal’s Visible Impacts” by Robb Kendrick, for National Geographic Magazine

Second Place

“California Goes Nuts” by Matt Black, for Mother Jones and

Third Place

“Feeding 9 Billion – The Farmers Who Will Grow Our Food” by Jim Richardson, for National Geographic Magazine

Honorable Mention

“Energy in the American West” by Jamey Stillings, for TIME Magazine’s “See the World’s Largest Solar Plants From Above”

Honorable Mention

“Oil Spill in the Sundarbans” by Arati Kumar-Rao, for, Maptia,

Rachel Carson Environment Book Award

First Place

“Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America and the Fight for Cumberland Island” by Will Harlan

Honorable Mention

“Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming” by McKenzie Funk

Honorable Mention

“The Reef: A Passionate History” by Iain McCalman

SEJ Awards 2015 Judges

Erin Ailworth

Erik Anderson

Perry Beeman

Sean Corcoran

Denis Cuff

Steve Curwood

Jackleen de La Harpe

Dan Fagin

Thomas Henry

Coco Liu

Bill Luster

Mary Mazzocco

Karl Mondon

Anne Paine

Kendra Pierre-Louis

Dina Rudick

Neena Satija

Susan Sharon

Douglas Struck

JoAnn Valenti

Brett Walton

I’m an active member of ASJA. How can you become a member?

Who Is Eligible?

Qualification Details

ASJA membership requires evidence of a sustained professional career as an independent nonfiction writer. If you’re a professional and can prove it, you are eligible for membership.

What counts? Articles, books, ghostwriting, content for many kinds of clients, even staff work can count towards qualification. Many successful applicants submit a mix of credits, such as a book, a book chapter, and/or several articles or other pieces. (All materials must be in English to qualify.) As of June 2015, the Board of Directors has endorsed the following specific criteria for membership.


If you’re primarily a writer of articles, you’ll need at least six substantial pieces written on a freelance basis. If you submit shorter articles (fewer than 1,000 words or so), submit more articles. It’s best if they are from variety of markets, rather than all from the same place.

A word about custom content. Custom, non-bylined content may be considered qualifying under these conditions:

  • you can submit verifiable evidence of authorship (e.g., a contract, with letter(s) of assignment if the topic(s) are not specified in the contract)
  • the work is for an organization of sufficient stature. These include, but are not limited to:
    • Content marketing agencies (e.g. MXM, Time Inc., Pace, Skyword)
    • Corporations (e.g. Walgreens, Ford, WalMart)
    • Nonprofits of significant size (e.g. ASPCA, YMCA of America, large hospitals).

Submit your largest markets. If you are submitting material from a market with which we may not be familiar, please give a brief description, including publisher or owner, circulation or readership, payment structure, and content.


If you’re a book author, you’ll need at least one nonfiction book with a second under contract to qualify. Book chapters don’t count here: they are considered roughly equivalent to long articles. Ghostwriting and collaborations do qualify, if evidence (such as a contract) is submitted to support your role as writer of the work.

In general, self-published books are not accepted as qualifying material towards ASJA membership. Exceptions may be made for self-published books with substantial sales (at least 5,000 copies), reviews in well-known journals, or inclusion in a major book club. Backup documentation will be required.

Staff Work

Staff-written work can be considered for up to half of the qualifying credentials. You must have at least 3 substantial freelance credits (which could include long articles, editorials, paid blogging, or a book) in addition.

If you’re submitting staff credits, they must be from a staff job that ended at least six months ago at an established media company.

Other Qualifying Material

Nonfiction freelanced TV, film and radio scripts for major media outlets and other bylined material may also count toward ASJA membership qualifications.

What Kinds Of Work Do Not Count Toward ASJA Membership Qualifications?

The following types of writing do not count toward qualifications for ASJA membership:

  • fiction or poetry
  • work from non-paying markets, including self-published blogs
  • work compensated strictly on a “pay-per-click” basis
  • work performed for companies and organizations that pay minimal freelance rates (e.g. $0.01/per word or $30 for a blog post of 1000 words)
  • work from markets that direct writers to use their advertisers as sources
  • work from small regional publications or local websites
  • work from small special-interest publications
  • most self-published or subsidy-published books and materials (see caveat above)
  • PR, advertising, or other writings paid for, in whole or in part, by the subject(s) of the piece(s).

News about book contracts from The Authors Guild

As a long-time member of The Authors Guild, I paid special attention when I received the following email. If you have published a book … if you are writing a book that you hope to publish …or if you merely dream of publishing a book someday … well, read on and learn. [I highly recommend membership in The Authors Guild. It's well worth the dues for any author or would-be author.]

Today we published the fourth installment of our Fair Contract Initiative, “A Publishing Contract Should Not Be Forever.” We argue that three basic changes to book contracts are urgently needed: (1) time-limited book contracts, (2) a way to let authors reclaim unexploited rights, and (3) updated out of print clauses.

You can access the post here, or read it below.

* * *

Diamonds may be forever, but book contracts should not be. There’s no good reason why a book should be held hostage by a publisher for the lifetime of the copyright, the life of the author plus seventy years—essentially forever. Yet that’s precisely what happens today. A publisher may go bankrupt or be bought by a conglomerate, the editors who championed the author may go on to other companies, the sales force may fail to establish the title in the marketplace and ignore it thereafter, but no matter how badly the publisher mishandles the book, the author’s agreement with the original publisher is likely to remain in effect for many decades.

That’s the way most book contracts have been drafted for more than a century, and publishers take it for granted; only a few brave souls have asked why or argued with it, because that’s the way it has always been. In the ideal traditional publishing partnership—where the publisher nourished the author’s career; where the same editor worked closely with the author over decades, editing and reworking books and new book ideas; where the publisher actively marketed and promoted the author and gave the author a sufficient advance to live on between books—then it might have made sense for the publisher to own the rights for the entire copyright term. But that is the rare author-publisher relationship today.

Recognizing how unfair a lifetime-plus grant can be, the copyright law allows authors to get their rights back after 35 years, but that is a really long time, especially when a publisher has long ago stowed your book away in a dark attic. And for the author’s termination to be effective, the author needs to comply with complicated legal notice procedures that are difficult to understand and execute without a copyright lawyer’s help.

Authors victimized by this status quo know that it’s long past time for publishers to offer a fair deal. We believe three basic changes are urgently needed: (1) time-limited contracts, (2) a clause that provides for reversion of unexploited rights, and (3) a specific new unchallengeable definition to replace historic “out of print” clauses that are not remotely relevant in the electronic age.

When it comes to time limits in agreements, publishers historically have positioned themselves on the lucrative side of the line. With authors, the deal they offer basically lasts forever. But when they’re on the other side of the deal, licensing things like paperback reprints or foreign rights to other companies, publishers typically don’t make agreements that continue for the life of a book’s copyright. Instead, the contracts are good only for fixed periods—seven years, for example. If publishers can routinely demand licenses that expire, why shouldn’t authors?

We think the “standard” contract should last for a limited period of time from the date of publication; it should end well before the 35-year termination window opens. When the contract expires, if a book is still doing well, the author and publisher might negotiate another time-limited deal—or the author might choose to move the book to a house that has put more effort into marketing the author’s later works. If the book is no longer gaining support from the original publisher, the author might choose to self-publish it or take it to another publisher. In any case, a time-limited contract gives authors the leverage and flexibility that they need in today’s publishing environment.

Publishers will no doubt push back and call us naive. They need to make their money back over time, we get that; publishers need to be able to meet the bottom line. But so do authors. And if a publisher is unwilling to invest in a book anymore, it doesn’t deserve to own the rights anymore. It’s clear that when publishers are the ones offering to license material they control, they typically agree to time-limited deals. Authors deserve no less.

Time-limited licenses are just the first step in making sure that publishing contracts aren’t forever. The second step–ensuring that publishers can’t sit on subsidiary rights that they’ve licensed but fail to exploit–is at least as important. After all, publishers have a strong incentive to make those deals: they typically retain fifty percent of the proceeds. But the way most current contracts work, publishers who fail to do anything with rights such as paperback, audiobook, and foreign edition rights don’t have to give those rights back to the author until the agreement ends—another “forever” deal. That’s ridiculous. If the publisher has stopped doing its sales job—or even if the publisher believes that there’s simply no market for these rights after all—the author should be able to claw back the right to exploit them or find somebody better.

The solution is simple: All subsidiary rights an author grants to a publisher should be subject to reversion after the author’s demand if they are not exercised or exploited within eighteen to twenty-four months of publication. There’s no reason why a publisher’s ineffectiveness at selling subsidiary rights should reduce the author’s income forever.

(In a later installment, we’ll have more to say about which rights authors should license in the first place, for how much, and with how much oversight. For now, suffice it to say that authors should almost always retain film and dramatic rights, and in many cases foreign publication rights as well—and should always have the right to refuse bad deals.)

That brings us to the third step: the “out of print” clause, which has failed woefully to keep up with modern publishing practices and must be replaced. The original concept was straightforward: When a publisher fails to keep a book on the market in a profitable way, the author should get all the rights back. This is more important today than ever, since e-books and print-on-demand make it easy for authors to republish their backlists: a recent study conducted by the British Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) showed that 70% of authors who were able to reclaim their rights were able to earn more money from the work in question.

But publishers have cleverly managed to craft “out of print” clauses that make it almost impossible for authors to recapture their rights. Classic contract language states that a book is not out of print as long as it is “available for sale in any edition.” So publishers “release” the book in a print-on-demand or electronic edition that’s always available, even if few copies are actually sold. By relying on language originally intended to provide a real reversionary right, a publisher can now hold onto a book forever even if it’s not actually doing anything with it. That is not how “out of print” was supposed to work.

The remedy is simple: Kill the entire outmoded concept of “out of print.” Instead, the contract should define when book rights are being “inadequately exploited” and therefore available for reversion to the author when the book fails to generate a certain amount of income—say, $250–$500—in a one-year period. Using income as the yardstick, not a specific number of sales, is essential: Publishers might otherwise be able to game the clause by offering one-cent e-books the way they’ve gamed existing clauses by using e-books and print-on-demand.

This change would completely eliminate the contentious and increasingly irrelevant issue of what constitutes “in print,” as well as publishers’ clever delaying tactics. As things stand now, if a book actually happens to go out of print, authors must typically figure that out on their own, notify the publisher, wait many months to see whether the publisher is willing to bring the book back onto the market, and, if not, try to get the publisher to relinquish the rights. Our simple solution, allowing an author to get the rights back when a book is “inadequately exploited” as proven by an unreached income floor, would put an end to this ludicrous time-killing dance. If the minimum income failed to arrive, the author could reclaim the rights.

It’s worth noting here that no single solution will work equally well for all author-publisher relationships. Not all publishing contracts, in other words, need to look the same. A major impetus of the Fair Contract Initiative, as we’ve mentioned before, is to challenge publishers and authors alike to be more creative in solving the challenges of the twenty-first century publishing industry.

That being said, it’s just common sense that a publisher should retain rights to a work only for a reasonable amount of time, and then only if it’s generating income for both parties. But current contracts are designed (as they have been for years) to keep publishers in perpetual control over works that authors created and copyrighted. That’s one more publishing-contract tradition that needs to change to keep pace with the times.

Read more about our Fair Contract Initiative.

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