Monday, November 30, 2015

Why I don’t require prep work for school visits

Children’s authors who speak in schools commonly feel that kids who have not read their books might not be vested in their presentation. Therefore, some request that teachers and librarians prep students by reading/assigning one or some of the authors books, conducting an author study, and/or running activities related to the subject(s) the author writes about.

I take a different view.

I like to go into a presentation with an audience who knows little or nothing about me.

Before I explain why t
hat is not akin to going into battle without armor, a bit of background…

An author visit is an expense, sometimes a sizable one. That makes it a gamble, too, because the school reps (usually the librarian or a PTA member) who bring in an author often haven’t heard that author’s presentation in advance. They invite based on the books, word of mouth about the presentations, or both.

This can be nerve-racking for the person arranging the visit—to host an author, s/he must ask whole grades and sometimes a whole school to interrupt their regularly scheduled programming. And not just for the assembly itself—also for the prep work. I look up to anyone willing to vouch for the quality of a guest speaker (author or otherwise) who has not been screened. If the presentation is a dud, that’s a lot of money and a lot of people’s time wasted.

Conversely, for some educators, doing no prep work is also nerve-racking. They worry the students will not pay attention to the author. They worry the author will be insulted.

But as the author, I’m the one being paid, so I feel I’m the one who should shoulder the responsibility of making this worth their while. I want to alleviate stress in my hosts. Just because I take author visits this seriously does not mean I don’t bring the fun! I feel I should be able to walk into any library, cafeteria, auditorium, or cafetorium and engage, entertain, and educate the audience for an hour even if they had no idea I was coming...or even if they never heard of me. Luckily, I love this challenge.

The books that are the focus of my current presentation (Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman) solve mysteries behind two of the most iconic fictional characters of all time. Therefore, the presentation benefits from the element of surprise: the less students know going into it, the more they will get out of it.

Establishing an in-person connection is not enough. It needs to be a meaningful in-person connection. I assure schools that it is this straightforward: “You set up the PowerPoint, I show up and fire up the kids (and staff).” My vow: I will leave students with the sense that writing and research are adventure. And I will leave some members of the staff in bittersweet tears. I am happy to report that it is working.

Of course I want kids to be exposed to my books. But I’ve found it to be a more effective use of class/library time to do that after I present.
Beforehand, it is tough to draw in the kids who are not interested in superheroes...especially because many educators fall into that category, too! 

But mine is not your typical, predictable presentation. The true stories I tell have a magical way of converting all kinds of people. I feel fortunate that I uncovered these stories and am able to share them in this way. 

Therefore, it’s easier on the educators not to try building excitement ahead of the presentation but rather to trust that they will be able to use the presentation as a springboard for further learning. Librarians regularly report that after my talks, the demand for my books skyrockets; the waiting list is often dozens of namessome of whom had previously said that they could not care less about superheroeswhich often results in the ordering of more copies. Yes, this might still happen even if a school does prep work, but my goal is to maximize a schools investment both financially and timewise.

I find it invaluable to let the presentation be the inspiration.

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