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.
- 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.