Thursday, January 27, 2011

School Visit Tips

I’m fresh off of a great trip to Arizona, where between Monday at noon and Wednesday at noon I visited six schools with a total of eight presentations. My thanks to the great city of Gilbert for giving Elliot his own street!

I LOVE doing school visits. I love the kids, their enthusiasm, their questions, and the unpredictability that always comes when working with children. I love bringing them a message I believe in, one that matters.

There’s a lot of advice out there about getting visits to schools, and I’ll probably blog about that eventually. But for those of you who have already booked a school, here are a few tips.

1. Bring a Message. Deciding what to talk about at a school visit can be difficult for some authors. I believe that children can handle more substance than we sometimes give them credit for. The kids will love humor, fun, and play, but they will also love messages with heart and meaning. Every one of us has something we feel passionately about from our own experiences, and when we have a passion for the topic, it’s easy to speak. Even better is if you can link that subject to a theme of your book.

2. Be Funny. While it’s important to have a solid message, it’s also important to have a sense of humor. Some people have a natural sense of humor, but others create humor by using funny pictures, telling kid-level jokes, wearing funny costume pieces, or involving the kids in a funny demonstration. Now let’s be honest, not everyone has a sense of comedy for a children’s audience. If that’s the case with you, then at least find a way to have fun up there. If you’re having fun, then they’ll have fun.

3. Speak to the Children. Not at Them. Speaking at the children isn’t much different than speaking at a wall, and it won’t have any more impact than if you were talking to a wall. Some presenters find it intimidating at first to look directly at the children they are speaking to, but if you force yourself to do it a few times, it’ll become natural. Look at their faces. Are they watching you? Are they listening or is their attention wandering? Children live in the moment and if you get in tune with them you will sense when they’re becoming bored or when they’re connecting with you, then you adjust your presentation accordingly.

4. Be Interactive. Find ways to involve the children in your presentation. Ask questions, get volunteers, use their input, take questions from them. Find ways to utilize their senses. If they are only listening to you, they won’t last long unless you are really vibrant in your presentation. The one caution I would give is when you allow them to participate, it’ll generate some noise from them. Be sure to have a plan for how you get their attention back on you when you’re ready to move on. There are dozens of ways to do this. For ideas, watch what teachers do.

5. Move. A person who stands in one place to present will eventually become invisible to the children. Move with purpose, but be sure to move. If the school provides you with a podium, ignore it completely or stand to the side of it, but never hide behind it. If there is a stage that places you several feet higher than the children, stand on the ground level (unless it’s the only way for everyone to see you). If they give you a microphone with a stand, make sure you can remove the microphone and carry it with you.

***Bonus Tip *** I come from a theater background, so I always look at school presentations as a type of theater. If you are nervous or unsure about yourself in front of an audience, consider approaching the presentation “in character.” Maybe you, Jane Author, are nervous and unsure, but your character, Jane SuperAuthor, is confident, enthusiastic, and fabulous. Sometimes the idea of being in character provides a buffer that allows an author to come out of their introvert shell.


Martha said...

It's fun to see pictures of you in action. :)
Still hoping you get to do the same thing out here.

Jen said...

I want to come out there too!

Ellingson's said...

Great tips!! I can totally apply those tips to my new calling: Primary Chorister. I've been hiding behind the piano for several years & was shocked by this calling! Thanks for this!!

Jen said...

I think Chorister is the biggest calling in Primary, but it's wonderful. If you want to email me off the blog (via Facebook maybe) I'll share with you some of my favorite ideas.