Thursday, February 18, 2016

Putting myself out there - Jo-Anne Berthelsen


Each January, or sometimes even late the previous year, I look at my list of speaking engagements and/or book promotion events for the year ahead and usually find I need more. So what to do? Should I wait and pray and leave it to God to prompt people to contact me?  Should I instead be more proactive and think of places where I can offer myself as a speaker? Or is it a matter of combining these two approaches?

Now I know from past experience that God has amazing ways of bringing speaking engagements to me I would never have imagined could happen. For example, a couple of years ago, I received an email from a friend, tentatively asking if I would be available to speak at their church’s women’s retreat. She had been idly chatting with her minister’s wife, as they sat watching their respective sons play soccer, when this lady asked her out of the blue if she knew anyone who might speak at their upcoming retreat. My friend suggested me, despite the fact we had not seen each other for several years and were now in different church denominations. The minister’s wife soon contacted me and, after a few emails and phone calls and a meeting with the retreat committee, we were off and running. It was a special weekend, and, as my friend and I drove home together, we marvelled at the way God had brought it all together.

But I also know from past experience how people often need speakers but don’t quite know whom to contact. So I decided some years back to take the risk of emailing various groups to tell them a bit about myself and my writing journey and let them know I am available to speak. In my email, I always try not to be too pushy. I merely offer myself in what I hope is humility and accept their response. Often I never hear back. Sometimes I receive an email that says something along the lines of ‘Thanks for contacting us. We have organised our speakers for the year but will keep you in mind for next year.’ But sometimes I receive a much more positive response where some lovely person tells me more about their group and asks when I would be available—or even a relieved phone call to organise a date and to thank me for emailing!

So this year, I once again prayed hard, then plunged into writing emails to all sorts of places. I was well aware of the danger of doing things in my own strength. But as I prayed, I sensed God was encouraging me to be proactive and put myself out there once again. Now the time has come to wait and to keep praying—and writing my next book! So far, four groups have invited me to speak, but that is only a small percentage of those I contacted. Will there be more? I don’t know. But I know I have done my best, believing God was leading me as I did.

Is this the way you would go about such things yourself, as a published author? People are different, I am aware, but I would be interested to hear your responses.

Jo-Anne Berthelsen lives in Sydney but grew up in Brisbane. She holds degrees in Arts and Theology and has worked as a high school teacher, editor and secretary, as well as in local church ministry. Jo-Anne is passionate about touching hearts and lives through both the written and spoken word. She is the author of six published novels and one non-fiction work, Soul Friend: the story of a shared spiritual journey. Jo-Anne is married to a retired minister and has three grown-up children and four grandchildren. For more information, please visit www.jo-anneberthelsen.com.

15 comments:

  1. Thanks Jo-Anne for making me think about my speaking journey. I've always waited for God to bring those opportunities my way - mostly. Perhaps I need to be proactive? Thank you for sharing your own way of seeking His opportunities. Definitely sounds a great way of going about it. It's lovely to hear of your own experiences. Thank you for making me think! :) And I'm sure you will bless many through your speaking as well as your writing. Bless you.

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    1. Thanks, Anusha. Whichever route we choose re speaking engagements, it's so important to be prayerful about it all, I've found, which I'm sure you would be too. And I'm sure you would bless many through your speaking as well.

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  2. Thanks for reminding us of the need for writers to speak as an important PR platform and to engage with potential readers.

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    1. Ruth, I'm just so grateful that I used to be a high school teacher, which has helped me not be afraid of speaking to an audience, I believe. Also, I did preaching classes at theological college, which helped, plus I have spoken many, many times in a pastoral context as well as now as an author, so all that experience helps too. I'm very thankful for it all, but understand that public speaking might not be everyone's choice!

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  3. Hi Jo-Anne - Thanks so much for your post. Very timely for me.

    I've had those out of blue invitations to speak; once as keynote speaker at a retreat, a few times to preach at different churches and – next month, to be on a panel looking at the problem of evil and suffering in the world. Oh and also invited to present an annual ethics workshop (that lasted for 10 years). All these opportunities were a legacy of lecturing at Bible College but have been few and far in between.

    Now, I'm on the cusp of being 'a published author' - having 12 shorter pieces published in the last 13 months and hoping (praying) that I can launch my novels this year. And, I love your approach - both prayer, trust & faith in God, but also putting the fleece out there. We don't have to run ourselves ragged trying to do everything the marketing gurus suggest & I think we do need to be mindful that we embrace kingdom values in all our approaches (part of which is not being pushy) - but I do believe that we can be being proactive in a sustainable and prayerful (faith-filled) way. We trust God to provide for us - but that doesn't mean we don't cook dinner or go out to work.

    BTW I was wondering how you choose which groups you send out your email to :)

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    1. I have responded to your question in a post below, Jeanette--meant just to reply to your comments, but something happened!

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  4. Thanks Jo-Anne - Appreciated your post. May God continue to bless and use you. Just wondered how you juggle all your commitments? I always struggle with priorities and worry about putting myself out there as an author and speaker and then having to back down due to the unpredictable nature of my life. Then again, as you say, if it is done with prayer and humility, trusting God to pave the way, I guess it's okay to have to back out of an appointment if God allows illness or some other emergency to make itself a priority?

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    1. Thanks so much, Jenny. Yes, I think prayer is key in it all--and I have a little team of eight women who pray for me wherever I speak. I email them beforehand and then report back afterwards and it has worked well for several years now.

      I understand your question though and think the speaking I have done in these last few years and still do would be much more difficult with a young family, but we are past that! Now it's the grandkids! But your question has started me thinking. In around the nine years or so that I have been speaking in connection with my books--and some years I had 25-30 speaking and promotional events--I have never had to cancel out and miss any of them. Admittedly, I just made it to a couple, after a back op I had, but in those instances, my husband was very helpful. So I am very grateful to God for that. But if you are ill or a family member is ill and you can't make it, Jenny, then so be it--you can't do the impossible. And as you say, I'm sure God can sort it out!

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  5. Thanks, Jeanette--I love the way you have described my approach to finding speaking engagements. That's exactly right--or at least, that's what I try to do.

    Re choosing which groups to email, that has changed a bit over time, according to which networks my husband and I are part of. Initially, when my first books were published, because my husband was still pastoring and I had just finished being part of a ministry team, I contacted other ministers and churches in our denomination who knew us or knew of us. However, I also had contacts in other denominations through various interdenominational ministries I had been involved with and just via having friends at other denominations, so I gradually widened the net a little, so to speak. Many denominations list the churches in their state on the net and quite a number of these churches have websites. So I check out these and see if I feel what I have to offer would suit the ministries they have in any way and then try to contact the relevant people. But this approach is very time consuming and is much less effective than having some personal connection with a church. After all, churches need to be careful whom they invite to speak at events, for sure.

    Re the more secular type of venues such as Probus Clubs, seniors' groups etc, I think that began with people personally recommending me, but then I just looked up as many websites as I could of such groups within reasonable distance of our home and contacted the speaker convenor or the secretary, letting them know where else I had spoken etc and what I could speak on. Sometimes too, local councils put out a list of community groups, so I have emailed groups in this way as well. You can also put your name down on a central register of speakers for Probus Clubs, but I have never found this works well here in Sydney at least--much better to contact clubs personally where you can.

    I could go on, but that might give you some idea of how I have gone about it. But prayer is essential in it all, I have found.

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    1. Hi Jo-Anne Thanks for you detailed answer. It does give some ideas :)

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  6. Thanks Jo-Anne. As you say, there are different ways God works to get us into the marketplace,and each of us is different. Someone recently said to me: you may not know where God wants to use you, or what steps to take, but He can direct your steps better when you start walking, than if you are still sitting on your chair.
    God bless you in your speaking this year.

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  7. Yes, that's an excellent way of describing how God can lead as we step out, Pam. And I think God can be behind the prompting for us to step out in the first place too.

    And God bless you in all your efforts this year too.

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  8. Hi Jo-Anne, you sound so experienced and confident. I gave my first author related 'speech' on Sunday at the launch. I'm not too bad at faking my confidence and, apart from people who know me behind the scenes, say they would never be able to tell. However, a lifestyle of speaking engagements for me would probably result in a gastric ulcer! Do you ever get past it? Or perhaps you never experienced these nerves at all? A teaching background is probably more useful than a nursing background, where our communication is virtually one to one.

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    1. Please find my reply below, Susanne--not sure why it is a separate post.

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  9. Oh, Susanne, I feel for you with those nerves when speaking, but well done to you for overcoming them and getting up there and sounding confident!

    To answer your questions though, no, I'm not sure you do get over those nerves completely, and that's probably a good thing to keep us more reliant on God! In the beginning, when I began speaking in our church and before I became an author, I used to get very nervous, but that has lessened quite a bit over the years. Sometimes these days, I am not nervous at all, but it depends on the setting and the audience. For example, if I am speaking to an audience of people I know and don't want to disappoint, then that still makes me quite nervous--and that's probably to do with my own pride! Or if I have been trusted with leading a retreat for another denomination and am concerned those present will understand what I am saying and where I am coming from, then that can make me nervous too. But I think we have to learn to allow God's Spirit to encourage us (ie 'put courage into' us) and just step out and do our best, as I'm sure you have and will, Susanne.

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