Sunday, March 20, 2011

Author Talks and Presentations

One of my goals this year is to give more author talks and workshops at schools, libraries and literary festivals. With more than twenty years of teaching experience behind me, standing up to speak in front of a crowd doesn't worry me in the least. School assemblies of 1000 plus was just part of the job.

As a children's author, however, I am aware that children at an author talk are more expectant than the usual school situation. They want to get to know you better. They want to interact with you. They want to be engaged. They may have read your book and they may be looking forward to your presentation very much.

With that in mind, it's important to deliver this expectation and to engage your audience.

Children's Author Event at Black Cat Books, Paddington, Brisbane, Feb 2011

Of course the audience is sometimes a mix of children, parents, grandparents and writers, such as my last speaking event at Black Cat Books, Paddington, Brisbane. In that situation I spoke about the 'Seed of an Idea' and the steps I took to develop that seed into a story.

Reading from Pond Magic

Last week I spent three days at the Somerset Literature Festival. This is the sixth year that I have attended this festival, and it was in fact back in 2005, when I was at a Somerset literary breakfast, that the desire to become a children's author and illustrator was first born within me.

As a newly published author and as a presenter at the Ipswich Festival of Children's Literature later in the year, my intention was to observe the speakers and take notes on what engaged a young audience and what did not.

Many speakers gave anecdotes from their youth, told stories from their life experiences and talked about their road to publication. With older students, authors spoke about the craft of writing and with younger students they told a story - scary, funny or whimsical.

Power Point slide shows, book trailers, videos, sound bites and other visual and aural aids were popular amongst presenters and added to what might be otherwise a presentation similar to everyone else's.

I attended twelve author talks and two panel sessions. The very best presenters interacted with the audience directly. They asked questions like:

'Do you read the names of chapter headings?'
'What are you reading?'
'Have you ever made a spaceship out of a cardboard box?'
'What do you do to annoy your parents/brother/sister?'
'What if you won a trip to Antarctica...?'

I suspected some of the kids' answers would go toward the next book they're writing. I certainly wrote a few down. 

The most interesting authors stood up and moved around the stage and into the audience. This is something I've always done as a teacher. Close proximity is more engaging and helps with behaviour.

The authors who brought along props and costumes had their audience transfixed. Volunteers were called to the stage and a sea of hands went up. Every kid wanted to be picked to be blind folded (Sue Whiting), operated on (Andy Griffiths) or scared out of their wits (Ghostboy).

A couple of authors used a ball to interact with the kids, illiciting a response from whomever the ball was thrown to. I've done this when teaching German. It keeps kids on their toes and listening. They're never sure who the next person to be thrown the ball will be, and they need to concentrate on their response to the question asked.

But be sure not to do this as the first activity. Once the kids are excited, you'll have a hard job settling them back down to listen to what you have to say. And keep them in their seats.

My pick of the festival was Ghostboy - Brisbane performance poet, David Stavanger. He had his young audience in the cup of his hand even before he began to speak. His presentation was a feast for the senses. It was visual, aural, sensory and interactive. He had boys rhyming and the whole room begging to be picked for word association. Ghostboy transported the children to another place and mood through the use of music, costume, tone, gait, speed, imagery and sound. When discussing Performance Poetry he said,

"You have to become the performance. Own the words. If the word is 'wrath', then be 'wrath' in tone and sense. Inhabit your performance."

I think that's a good piece of advice for any time you have to stand up and speak to an audience. Own it.

Festival Highlights

  • Favourite quote - "You can't polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter." Kate Hunter.
  • Favourite book trailer - The Billionaire's Curse by Richard Newsome.
  • Favourite prop - Sue Whiting's enormous spider for her novel 'Freaky' (Walker Books)
  • Favourite Reading - What Body Part is That? Andy Griffiths eg. "Shoulders are for avoiding questions."
  • Favourite Advice - "Don't study Creative Writing at Uni. Creativity cannot be given a mark." Matthew Reilly.
Matthew Reilly also had a few other pearls  of wisdom:

"There is no such thing as an aspiring writer. You are a writer, period."
"If you believe a good review, you have to believe a bad review too."
"Failure is fine as long as you learn from it."
"You need to practise your craft 10,000 hours to get it right."
"Be ready for a lucky break."
"Dare to succeed."
"Do debating. Everything in life comes down to public speaking."

And I will leave you with that last thought. Public speaking... are you ready for your lucky break? I think I'll go and join Toastmasters.


Dee White said...

Great post, Angela,

Thanks for some fabulous tips about author visits.

So many great ideas.


N J .............. said...

Hi Angela,
Thank you for a most informative piece of information. It is very nice to read something that will help me in the future.

Life's a poem said...

Angela. a marvellous summary of what is obviously a marvellous event for all concerned- yes as a teacher one has a bit of insight into what engages children- it's all important!

Thanks for sharing.


Claire said...

Great summary Angela. I'd also turn around the review quote 'If you believe a bad review, then you have to believe the good one too.' I know for me that a bad review is sometimes 10 times louder than a good one.

Sheryl Gwyther said...

Fabulous review of the festival, Angela. You gathered some great tips! I so want to see David perform now!!! I wonder where he'll be next?

BookChook said...

Great ideas! Thanks, Angela.

Karen said...

Thank Angela,
Riveting Blog on what the audience wants from Author talks. Great advice. I'm putting the Somerset Festival in my diary for next year.

Unknown said...

Fabulous post, Angela
Lots of great tips.

It was really interesting to read your observations as you're both a writer and teacher, and would know how to control and enthuse kids.

It sounds a fantastic conference.
Hope you present therd next year, especially considering that you gained the impetus to embark on writing there.


Chris Bell said...

Thanks for the great tips and insights into giving author talks and workshops. I took on board the one about moving among the group at mine yesterday, and it worked really well. Made me feel much more connected to the students too, Angela.


Angela Sunde. said...

Thank you everyone.
Claire, you're so right. A bad review will linger longer in the memory. Not that I can imagine you've ever had a bad review.
Sheryl, I think there was a list of gigs on Ghostboy's website.
Alison, I hope I'm there next year also. How can they overlook me? Ha ha..
Chris, I'm so pleased! The kids in turn feel more connected with you also.I'm very glad I have helped. Blogs are amazing , aren't they?

Kaz Delaney said...

I found this fascinating, Angela. I've been giving talks for 20 years and yet, this is the only article I've seen that got down to the nitty gritty. I learned some good stuff here. Thankyou.

Angela Sunde. said...

Thanks Kerri, I love speaking to kids and am just itching to do more. Usually when watching another author's presentation it's easy to start listening to what they're saying and not observing what they're doing. But this time I made a concious effort to observe and take notes.

Kat Apel said...

Excellent post, Angela. Packed with great tips. All the best with your push for author visits. :)

Angela Sunde. said...

Thank you, Kat. My calendar is slowly filling up. Last weekend I delivered a talk on 'Building your Author Brand' to the Prana Writers on the Gold Coast.

Tania McCartney said...

Priceless post - love it, Ang!

Angela Sunde. said...

Thanks, Tania. This week I've had to revisit this post and take my own advice.