About three months ago a Librarian invited me to speak at her middle school. I had been yearning to get myself in front of students to talk about my Young Adult fantasy/adventure series, The Hypothesis of Giants, and this was finally my chance. So after finalizing the details of the author school presentation, and thanking the librarian for setting this up, I hung up the phone and I froze. I had no idea what on earth I was going to say!
Now I am no stranger to presenting. In fact, for my day job I have to get up in front of clients so I had the basics of presenting down. However, this would be my first school presentation so you can bet I was a little nervous. Kids were like a foreign concept to me. I knew kids. I wrote for kids. But I didn’t know how to keep them interested in me and my story for forty minutes. That could be like a lifetime for them, as well as for me (picturing the teacher in Ferris Bueller. Bueller… Bueller). So I did not want that to become my fate. I needed guidance.
First I reached out to my older sister who is a music teacher. She has been a teacher for several years and knows the in’s and out’s of keeping a student’s attention span. Some teaching methods she shared were extremely helpful. I also reached out to a fellow author who had experience presenting to students, and she also shared some insightful advice. Here are a few tips to help you NOT PANIC and become a pro at author school presentations:
- Create a PowerPoint Presentation- This doesn’t have to be anything fancy. For example, in my novel I refer to the Aurora Borealis. So I created about ten slides with questions, images that I found online, and quotes about the northern lights and the gods/goddesses that inspired their name. Having a visual is helpful in order to keep the students more engaged. It was much better than just me speaking in front of them for forty minutes. I could picture the students saying BORING. LOL
- Keep Them Engaged- Students like to talk and answer questions. I had questions on my PowerPoint and I encouraged them to talk about their own writing challenges and experiences to keep them engaged. Many of them were already writers and very interested in how I got started and managed to get past the roadblocks.
- Prizes- Give out something, like raffle tickets to students to encourage them to answer a question. The person with the most tickets at the end won a free copy of my book, which I autographed for them. The author I spoke with went one step further and created gift baskets for students so it was more of an incentive for them to participate.
- A Fun Writing Assignment- You have now spoken about your own writing journey, so why not end with a fun writing assignment. Make sure the students know they are not getting graded so this is a way for them to put on their author hats and get their creative juices flowing. I found a picture online and a cool writing assignment called the snowball effect. One student would start writing the first thing that came into his/her mind inspired by the picture. After about ten minutes, they then would pass it to the student beside him/her to continue with the story. After another ten minutes, I encouraged the students to read their story in front of the class. Let me tell you the funnier the picture the better it is and the students were so into it. They came up with some great stories and many told me they wanted to continue writing after we were done.
- Sell Books- As much as it’s nice to raffle off some books, the ultimate goal is to sell our books wherever and whenever possible. Ask the Librarian prior to the date of your presentation if you are able to sell books to the students. If the school will allow you, create a permission slip in Microsoft Word and send to the Librarian to distribute to the classes before the date of the author presentation. This will help you see how many copies of the books were pre-sold so that you come prepared. In my case, the school was not open to this so instead I brought 6 books, two to be raffled off at the end of each of the three classes. I also donated one to the library.
- Press Opportunities- Ask if there are any opportunities for the press to cover the event, like the school newspaper or the community paper. It is great publicity not only for you but for the school as well.
For those of you who get nervous speaking in front of an audience, and believe me the butterflies are still there each time I present as well, here are some helpful hints to overcome that fear:
- PRACTICE– I cannot stress this enough. Even Senior VP’s at my company will practice
multiple times before a client pitch so I definitely recommend this. It will help you see if the slides flow, as well as give you a chance to time yourself. Plan for interruptions and/or questions along the way. It will also help you sound more relaxed and comfortable with the material as opposed to sounding like you are reading off of a slide. This leads me to my next tip.
- DON”T READ FROM THE POWERPOINT! Even if you are presenting to younger grade students who may not be as literate, resist the urge to read off the screen like a robot. To keep the audience engaged, you need to speak to them and not to the powerpoint screen. Keep key words and phrases there on the screen in case you need it to maintain your train of thought, but remember you are having a conversation with your audience. If flash cards will help you from reading off of the screen every two seconds, that is another great trick until you are comfortable enough to do it from memory. Don’t forget to use visuals too since that will help tell the overall story as opposed to just words on a white background. Be creative!
- BEWARE OF NERVOUS HABITS- I used to speak very fast and it was a problem for me when I was younger. When I got nervous speaking in public I used to be like the road runner and forgetting to breathe. While practicing in front of someone, they brought it to my attention and I am so glad they did. Once I was conscious of it I took strides to rectify it. Some other nervous habits people have are speaking with their hands, saying “UM” a lot, or repeat the same word over and over again subconsciously. These are just to name a few but once you are aware of your nervous habit, you can take measures to beat it and there are different techniques to try. Don’t get discouraged and remember that it takes a lot of practice to get it right, so just keep getting back out there.
- MAKE EYE CONTACT- This is a great tip to keep the audience engaged. Walk around, make eye contact. Don’t just stay in one spot. Walk over to one of the students and ask them to read out of the book. It shows that you are interested in what they have to say so they will be more inclined to listen to you.
Now you have the planning tools needed to be prepared to speak at author events and presentations. Believe me when I say it is such a rewarding experience, and I can’t wait to hear about your own presentations. If you have any other advice to share with myself and fellow authors, please leave in the COMMENT section below. Also, feel free to reach out to me with any questions. Best of luck and have fun inspiring the next generation of writers!