Cristy Burne’s top tips for presenting and stagecraft

Are you an author or illustrator preparing for a live appearance? We asked children’s author Cristy Burne for her tips on making the most of your author and illustrator events.

Whether you love the limelight or go weak at the knees, your speaking skills are a gateway to engaging your readers, amplifying your message, and boosting your career.

From voice-care to self-care, here are seven strategies to help make every event a success.

1.    Work out your ‘why?’

It’s an incredible privilege to speak. Why should busy people drop everything and dedicate their time and money to listen to you? Why are you on stage?

I believe the answer is right in front of you: you’re there to serve your audience. When preparing to present, think about what you can offer the people in the room. What do they need? Why did they book you? How can you best serve in this moment?

Understanding this was a huge turning point for me. It helped me with nerves and stage fright (because it’s way less scary when it’s not all about you). More importantly, it helped me lean into my own unique brand of performance.

2.    Lean in to being you

I’m known for exploding things: my vibe is energetic, offbeat science and creativity. For years, I was afraid to dive into this very specific niche. But the more I spoke, the more I realised: this is what my audiences want.

So how can you best serve your audience? I believe it’s by being your authentic self.

Festival directors and librarians and teachers all have different needs. Audiences, too, seek many different experiences and inspirations. Perhaps you serve by sharing stories of your creative struggles, or by sparking joy and laughter in a world that sorely needs it, or by gathering us up in your softly spoken campfire secrets. Whatever it is that you do best, lean into it.

3.    Flex your story muscles

Your presentations, like your books, can benefit from storytelling technique: Show the audience how you felt, don’t just tell them. Engage their senses. Take time to build tension and release.

Starting with an emotional connection can be extremely powerful. I like to tell a personal story that shows I’m an ordinary person, just like the people in my audience. When you share a story, you take everyone in the room on a shared journey. Everyone experiences the emotional engagement, tension, and release together.

This shared human experience is what many of us crave. Creating it for your audience is a wonderful way to serve.

4.    Flex your physical muscles, too

Whether you want your audience leaning in or laughing out loud, you can speak with your body as well as your voice.

A great way to check what your body is saying is to video yourself presenting. Now (are you ready?), watch it back on mute. Do you have nervous habits you’re not aware of? Do you keep your elbows clamped to your ribs? Are you letting your eyes float vaguely over the audience?

Being mindful of your physical stagecraft can help make your presentation or event all the more engaging.

5.    Care for your voice

When I first started presenting, I lost my voice on more than one occasion, so I now have a host of rituals to keep me in tip-top shape. Drinking peppermint tea, wearing a scarf, and humming in steamy showers all helps (not at the same time). However, my biggest tip is to Bring Your Own Water Bottle.

Second most important tip: Remember To Sip From Your Water Bottle. And To Refill It.

Keeping your vocal cords constantly hydrated is most of the battle won.

6.    Care for yourself

This is the part where I remind you to put on your own oxygen mask first.

Taking care of yourself is a huge part of a successful event. Pack snacks. Leave early so you’re not stressed about being late. Forgive yourself for not sleeping well the night before (because who sleeps well the night before?).

This work doesn’t end with the event. Many creators skew introverted, myself included. Take time after the event to go back into your own space and regenerate your energies. After doing the best event I can do, I absolutely need Cave Time: to go back into my own head and regenerate my energies. This post-event self-care is just as important as the event itself.

7.    Be real

Audiences resonate with speakers and presenters they can relate to. When on stage, I don’t air all my laundry or share all my flaws (we only have an hour, after all), but I don’t pretend to be perfect either.

When we share our imperfect human selves, we serve our audience by showing them what it is to be alive and hopeful and striving towards a better tomorrow. This, I believe, is the most vital work we can do. Thank you for doing it.


Cristy Burne blends science and story to inspire innovation and positive change. An atom-smashing journalist turned children’s author, Cristy has published over a dozen books for children. Her new releases include Ultra Violet, a graphic novel with Rebel Challenger, and Into The Blue, a chapter book about snorkelling, secrets and owning your mistakes.

Want to learn more about live events? Check out the Live Literature in Australia report by University of Melbourne and Australia Reads.