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  • Writer's pictureSiân Smith

5 lessons I’ve learnt from my first presentation as a business owner

On Saturday 27 April 2024 I gave my first presentation as a business owner (in fact, probably my first presentation since being a postgraduate student about 15 years ago!) at Socially Shared’s first ever Author Networking event.

This book lovers event was the brain child of Shelley Wilson. I first met Shelley just 4 months after launching my book editing business. It was November 2022, and I attended a Meet the Author event, hosted by Socially Shared. At this point in my business, I had just finished my first ever project (proof-editing a 30,000-word book on anxiety recovery).

I honestly can’t even remember how I found out about the event; I just wanted to go along to see what sort of books local authors were producing and check out the quality of self-publishing. I had no intentions of meeting any potential clients or even connecting with anyone. I saw Shelley’s stand, where she was selling her books and promoting her writing mentor business. As soon as I introduced myself to Shelley, she invited me to join her free writing group on Facebook and has been so supportive in welcoming me into her writing community. I have since done likewise if I meet a writer who isn’t ready for an editor and needs a writing coach by pointing them towards Shelley and her free writing group.

Fast-forward to February 2024 and Shelley asks if I would attend their brand-new Author Networking event – created from the success of their Meet the Author event – to fill one of their expert slots! Funnily enough, I knew I wanted to say ‘yes’ straightaway, even though I wasn’t too sure what I’d speak about. With some guidance from Shelley, we decided to stick to the ‘basic’ principles of the editing process when publishing your book.

The final title of my presentation was ‘Mastering the Editing Process: A Guide for Authors’.

Having asked other business owners for their tips about presenting and exhibiting beforehand, I knew I wanted to return the favour and share what I’ve learnt from doing this presentation: both from a practical perspective and more personal reflections.

A woman in a flowery jumpsuit is standing next to a 2-metre roller banner
Me with my first ever roller banner, ready to go! (Photo credit: Sian Smith, courtesy of my son)

1.      Everyone has their own style

My style was to prepare a full speech (though I made sure I didn’t just read from the paper) and provide a handout for people to use/take with them – I’m a prolific note-taker, so I wanted to do the same for anyone else who has the same learning approach as mine.

The other speaker, Marcia, was much more laidback. She had a few notes to refer to, but on the whole she was more confident in being able to share her knowledge and experience with an air of someone who has talked on stage multiple times.

Towards the end of my speech, mind you, I found I was able to come off script and adopt a less ‘polished’ version of my presentation. I even enjoyed it!

Both styles are fine. Both were equally and engaging, but just presented differently. My style is to prepare and practise exactly what I’m going to say as much as I can beforehand. I’m not quite so eloquent when speaking off the cuff (which is why I find networking such hard work sometimes), so I knew I’d feel far more confident knowing I’d rehearsed the whole presentation from start to finish.


2.      I knew I wouldn’t get everything right

I’ve never been to an event as a speaker or exhibitor before, so I expected to get things wrong. But I don’t mean that I didn’t think I was good enough to be there. I know I have expertise that others want to hear about and I know that I love speaking to people, which would help my genuine enthusiasm and passion come across to the audience. The aspect I knew I’d get wrong the most was the actual exhibition table. And, quite frankly, mine looked fairly rubbish. I now understand the difference it makes to have things at eye-level, rather than a bird’s eye view (note to self, invest in some book stands and business card holders).

A table with a white tablecloth, displaying books and flyers
My fairly rubbish stand. (Photo credit: Sian Smith)


Because I knew I’d get that part wrong, however, I was looking out for how others did it right. My marketing materials had too much white background on them for a start. I was worried about them being too tricky to read or garish, but now I see they need more colour to make my stand more eye-catching. I also need to add more roller banners for the desk (one is not enough) and master the skill of adding objet d’art to create a more interesting stand.

A table with a white tablecloth that says 'Socially Shared', with several flyers and notebooks on display
How to do a stand right! (Photo credit: Sian Smith)


The freebie on my stand was a Pukka tea (Womankind, obviously), but most people didn’t know it was tea or that it was a freebie, so I’ll add a sign next time which says just that.


My last-minute decision to bring along a few reference books was spot on, though. These provided a great conversation starter and also showcased my position as an informed expert in book editing.


3.      Strip your expertise right back to its basics

When Shelley asked if I wanted to speak at this event, I really wanted to, but I wasn’t sure what I’d even speak about. Shelley assured me that a talk which covered the basics of book editing (the different stages of editing) would bring the most value.

When I thought about it, that’s what I cover in my connection calls with first-time authors. Before I book a service with them, I give them an overview of the different stages, and find out which service it is that they most likely need. So when an author just wants some feedback on their book as it currently stands, I know they are at the developmental editing or manuscript appraisal stage – but they don’t know that’s what it’s called! When they tell me they want their book to be proofread and then in the same breath they say they want someone who can suggest a better way of phrasing something, I know they mean a copyedit rather than a proofread.


Because I’ve been involved in proofreading and editing for such a long time now, all the phrases and stages are second nature to me, but every time I explain the difference between my services and the editing stages to a potential client, they always exclaim their gratitude for me explaining the differences and also make it clear they didn’t know what was involved in editing and publishing a book!


So, to me, the speech was rather basic. But to everyone there, it was vital to explain a rather complex (even unknown) process in a far more digestible way.

A white piece of paper title 'Mastering the Editing Process: A Guide for Authors' with a flowchart of the different editing stages to editing a book
My handout from the day to help simplify an overwhelming process. (Photo credit: Sian Smith)


4.      Take any opportunity to practise

By this I mean two things: 1) present at a few smaller events, so you can get used to speaking in public 2) practise what you’re going to say in front of actual people.

  1. One of the reasons I said yes when Shelley asked me to speak at this event was because I knew it would be on the smaller side. Socially Shared is building up a wonderful following of writers and authors, but this was the first time they’d organised an author networking event, so I thought it was the perfect opportunity to present for the first time.

  2. Once I’d drafted my speech, I practised a few times on my own to check the timings. But I also created chances to practise this speech in front of people. Primarily, this was to get their feedback on the content and my presentation style, but an added bonus of doing this is that when you present in front of anyone, the atmosphere automatically changes. You immediately feel a bit of extra charge and a sense of the nerves you might feel on the day.

I practised my speech on Zoom with a writing group I’m a member of; in front of my husband; and with Shelley on Zoom, so she could share it with her virtual mentees who were unable to make the event.


My husband gave me useful feedback from the POV of someone who isn’t involved in the creative or publishing world. The writing group assured me I was bringing up the right subjects, and also had some valuable suggestions for what I should add (more anecdotes from my own experience). Shelley’s contagious enthusiasm for helping writers produce their best possible work made me remember why I love being a book editor and why I want to come to this event!

5.      Build the right community

During the event, it was mentioned a few times that many creative industries are lonely ones. Writing is quite isolating a lot of the time and freelance editors spend a lot of time on their own too. While time to actually work on the projects you have coming in is important, so is connecting with other people in your industry. My husband and family now know a little bit about book editing, and we’re all prolific readers, but there’s just a whole other vibe that happens when you speak to writers, publishers, and fellow editors.

Before and after my presentation, I had brilliant chats with several fiction authors. I won’t end up working with them, because I don’t edit fiction, but their curiosity about what I ‘do’ and my awe for their ability and belief to write a book brings us together in mutual affection for one another.


And don’t forget, without this community, I would never have even had the opportunity to do this presentation. All thanks to Shelley so fervently welcoming me into her own writing clan.

3 roller banners side by side. South Warwickshire Literary Festival, Shelley Wilson Writing Mentor, Socially Shared Book Shop
Find a community that's friendly, engaging, and supportive. (Photo credit: Sian Smith)


Bonus reflection: Say yes!

But above all, I hope my sharing my experience has made you feel like you can say yes to the next opportunity that comes your way, whether it’s a guest slot on a podcast, attending an exhibition, or presenting at an event like the one I did.


Don’t assume you need to have been in business for longer before you say yes or put yourself forward. As mentioned above, you will know more about your business or sector than people out of it, so you can always impart knowledge others don’t have. Don't let imposter syndrome get in your way!


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