PERSPECTIVES, REFLECTIONS

Behind the scenes: how I prepare for speaking engagements

Personal reflections and rules for public engagement

Shawn Seah
4 min readSep 2, 2023

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Preparing the room for a book talk. Photograph by author, Shawn Seah.

Her eyes widened. “I didn’t know that you did so much preparation behind the scenes for your heritage hobby.”

I was speaking with a fellow Singaporean writer when she made these remarks.

To be fair, few people know how much preparation goes into public speaking events.

Yes, I prepare in advance for public events like a book talk, public lecture or seminar, or any engagement for that matter.

It might come as a surprise, but I have been speaking at typically six to eight public events each year since 2017.

For example, I have shared stories at places such as the Peranakan Museum; Blackbox at Fort Canning Centre during the Singapore Bicentennial; the National University of Singapore; and even the Nanyang Sacred Union, a Chinese temple.

At the Peranakan Association Singapore’s inaugural Baba Nyonya Literary Festival, I was one of the panel speakers. Subsequently, I served as a moderator at the second edition of the festival.

I also spoke about the historical Punggol Zoo in a TV documentary by CNA, called Lost Waterfronts: The Mysteries in 2023, as well as narrated stories about Chinese pioneers over the airwaves, during English and Chinese radio interviews.

Personally, as a Singaporean, I like to be prepared, and when I don’t prepare to the fullest, I get worried. I try my best to close all the gaps, or at least ensure that things have the best chance of turning out well.

Usually, planning and background preparation typically takes two to three months on average.

Sometimes, for the larger projects (and because I only work on my hobby at night and weekends), planning and preparation takes six months to a year.

I do suppose that if I wrote or spoke full-time, I could cut down planning and preparation times drastically, but they would still take a couple of weeks, if not months.

And sometimes preparation takes place in tandem while securing a speaking venue, which could be…

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Shawn Seah

Singaporean writer and public speaker, passionate about education, social issues, and local history and community stories.