SCBWI Queensland Panel Presentation ... AUTHORS IN SCHOOLS
bloggers: Dimity Powell & Candice Lemon-Scott (SCBWI author members)
At SCBWI Queensland's meeting held on 13th April at Brisbane Square Library, members were treated to a special panel event. Panellists and SCBWI members, Peter Carnavas, Pamela Rushby, Charmaine Clancy, Prue Mason and Amanda Worlley generously and honestly shared their experiences and ideas about how to hold successful author events in schools. SCBWI Qld ARA, Sheryl Gwyther was the MC.
The information presented was invaluable for authors and illustrators, who are often inexperienced at presenting to school children. Below is a summary of the key points made. It covers everything from first approaching a school to follow up after the event, so we hope everyone who reads this will find it as useful as we did:
Charmaine Clancy, author - ‘How To Get Noticed’
Charmaine provided useful advice on how she, as a self-published author, gets herself noticed by schools so that she can attract presenting work:
Her key tips were to:
- Have a page on your website dedicated to your engagements and their content. It could be labelled, ‘for teachers,’ ‘schools’ etc.
- Provide an introduction that’s written in ‘kid speak’ to attract children in the first instance who may then realise it would be great to have this author come to their school. The kids may then go to their teacher and suggest he/she check out the website.
- List and provide examples of your favourite workshops, styles, content etc.
- Include teacher notes / resources in a downloadable form. Teachers can then use these in the classroom or better yet, have the author herself come in and run a workshop linked to these activities. Check online curriculum standards and use these to base your presentations on. This helps the teacher meet criteria so will make your visit more appealing.
- Put up a short YouTube video of yourself so teachers can see your presentation style and determine whether it suits their needs.
- Visit schools in advance (cold canvas.) Introduce yourself and leave a flyer of credentials.
- Promote yourself through events, libraries, cafes, bookshops etc. to build credentials (e.g. The Black Cat!)
- Once you secure a presentation focus on the students – make it more about them, not you!
Only give kids handouts, tactile examples etc. when you want them to use it or they’ll be too distracted to hear what the activity’s about.
Peter Carnavas, author/illustrator - ‘Tips on Talking in Schools’
Peter provided a fantastic insight into preparing for and hosting a successful and engaging school presentation.
Be prepared. Contact the school in advance via email and outline what you require, what they should provide and what you need to know: (include requirements in the body of email too)
- Session lengths / Times
- Group size and age (important that ages are similar as a Prep student is very different to a Year Six student)
- Space where the presentation will take place (a library or large classroom is preferable to a school hall due to the logistical and acoustic problems of speaking in a hall to a very large group)
- Your requirements (for example, whiteboard, projector but bring your own USB and laptop for back up)
- What the students require to bring along (for example, pencil, paper or sketchbook and something to lean on)
- Content of presentations (a brief outline)
- Don’t ask the school what they want you to present on. Draw from several standard presentations to ease your workload
- You may wish to send teacher’s notes in advance or a fun ‘get to know you’ activity such as a group of photos and the students have to guess which one is of you as a child
- Know the name of the contact person at the school and where to meet.
- Be early (45 minutes before the presentation) to allow time to find your way and give the contact person time to get things organised for you!
- Bring lunch. Don’t assume the school will provide it for you
- Ease nerves by making small talk with the students as they arrive
- Let kids know what you’ll be doing for the presentation
- Break average (45 min) presentations down into 5 – 10 minutes chunks plus around 5 minutes for Q & A.
- Make sure transitions are smooth and relevant and link each section.
- Encourage student participation by:
- Making sure you are in control
- Give them signals / visual cues / relevant class collective cues to keep them in tow.
- Avoid students calling out by telling them to keep it a secret…(good for littlies)
- Let teachers be in charge of behaviour management and ask them to step in if need be.
- If using PowerPoint presentations, invest in a remote control pointer (and batteries)
- Have back up if technology fails! Handouts, laminated pics and story board etc. (questions!)
- Send a follow up email to thank the school
Kids need different experiences with different types of people. They don’t just need to be amused or entertained so just deliver however you feel comfortable. Just be the best version of who you are and work to your strengths. Be more engaging (and enlightening) than entertaining!
Prue Mason, author - ‘Different approaches to entertaining an audience’
- Prue provided a personal account of her very first author presentation with honesty and humour. She went on to explaining her approach to presentations.
- Festivals are more about presenting yourself, your book, your journey and image etc.
- School talks are different. Schools should know about you and have read your book. Sessions should be a maximum of 45 but around 20 minutes is ideal. Workshops can be longer, from 60 minutes to a full day.
- Presentation sessions can be broken down into chunks. For example:
- Intro = warm up and getting to know each other session to engage the children. It should be about them, more than about you
- Talk about your writing, why you’re a writer, how you became a writer etc
- Talk about the writing process and how you get your ideas
- The story behind the story. This can include visuals like photographs
- Presentations are different from workshop!
- Active participation such as dressing up as a character related to your book and making a story from it
- Example workshop topics include ...
- Work on one aspect of writing such as character
- Role play such as wearing different hats
- Questions on a worksheet and multiple choice
- Exploring elements of a story
Pam Rushby, author - ‘Communication and Pre-planning to avoid the pitfalls’
Pam had some wonderful advice on how to avoid potential pitfalls of presenting to have a successful and interesting presentation.
- Pitfalls when presenting might include:
- Disruptive kids
- The students haven’t read any of your books
- No forward planning
- Being asked to present to a large group of mixed ages (don’t do it! Or in this casekeep to 5 mins maximum presentation time)
- Too many sessions
- No communication regarding payment!
- Re the payment problem ...
- Politely refuse if they are not offering you payment. Advise the school about ASA rates and stick to that.
- Keep sessions to 3 or 4 maximum a day.
- Control groups by:
- Taking visual material such as props and pictures (nb. If they prop is fragile place it in a protective clear plastic case)
- Keeping them active and moving, then reward with prizes e.g. bookmarks
- Take show and tell material such us drafts, examples, info, ideas collection methods etc.
A good response to the common question ‘how much are you paid?’ is to get the kids to work out your royalty rate. For example, if the book costs $20 and you get 10% of it how much do I get paid for one book? And the funniest word you can include in a workshop for kids is UNDERPANTS!
Amanda Worlley, Teacher-Librarian and writer - ‘Playing to the audience; a Teacher Librarian’s POV'
- Amanda provided a wonderful insight into school presentation through the eyes of a Teacher Librarian.
- Advice from Amanda included:
- You never know who is in your audience so never assume a small turn out is a poor one.
- Let the school you are presenting at know in advance how many photocopies etc. you require as a courtesy and to allow time for the school to organise it.
- Keep your website up to date. The school will research you if considering inviting you to present!
- Try to align your session content with curriculum content points to show that you are ticking some of the required boxes for them.
Include content that will grab student and teacher interest and engage kids. For example, talk about the research behind the book and how this was used in creating the book.
A resource that may be helpful is the Authors and Illustrators in Schools on the PETAA (Primary English Teaching Association of Australia) guide. This is a comprehensive guide for authors and illustrators, and a great resource for teachers organising visits. It also contains first hand accounts from authors that are insightful. http://www.petaa.edu.au/resources/authors-in-schools
Question Time Tips and Last Thoughts:
‘How to run a Successful Q&A Session’
- Dimity Powell suggested emailing the school with questions for students in advance. This enables kids to have more time and confidence to think of questions and gives the author the opportunity to pre-prepare answers.
- Peter Carnavas suggested instead of asking broadly for questions, be more specific in order for questions to be more relevant. For example, ‘Is there anything you want to find out about that I haven’t told you about yet?’
- Sheryl Gwyther suggested taking an intriguing resource or artefact to interest the kids. Regain lost attention by suddenly whispering, or stopping and gazing at disruptive children until they stop (it works), or asking if they've got a question. Or even better ensure you've talked to the teacher beforehand to do your 'crowd-control'. If you do like a level of noisier participation, let teacher know so she/he isn't jumping in when not necessary.
Some Final Ideas
- Children can be involved in story sessions through active participation, such as by making animal sounds, dressing up etc.
- Consider conducting Skype visits. Set up a time and do a test connection the day before.
- When touring outside your local area, contact schools in the region you’re visiting and offer a presentation, saying you have a few slots still available at that time
We got so much out of this informative session and we hope you find these ideas just as valuable for planning and carrying out your own school presentation!
Many thanks, Dimity and Candice for blogging on this very successful event ...
Sheryl Gwyther SCBWI Aust. E/NZ Assistant Regional Advisor.