I’m revising my general school visit presentation. Again. I think it will always be a work in progress. Which is probably good. That way it doesn’t get stale.

Thanks to my good friend C., I started doing school visits probably way before I needed to. I had three picture books out when I started. Two of those picture books were state ABC books…and I was hardly ever invited to schools in THOSE states (Minnesota and Wisconsin). Back then, all of my invitations were to schools right here in Iowa (schools that heard about me through C.). I didn’t have much to say about myself or my books back then, so I made up this whole interactive thing on how a book gets published. That became the highlight of my presentation.

But then I published a few more books…and I learned to use power point, so I dropped that part of my presentation and exchanged it for a total power point presentation (plus 10 minutes of Q and A). Lately (i.e. since I joined Toastmasters…and talked to my friend D. who does a power point presentation, too, but she actually spends 10 minutes in front of the kids before she launches into her power point…what a novel idea!) I’ve been thinking a 40-45 minute power point presentation might be a little much. That’s a really long time to sit quietly and stare at a screen.

I used to get such nice comments on the interactive thing when I was doing it, so I was thinking maybe I should bring that back? Maybe I should break my presentation into two parts — a 20 minute power point presentation and then a 20 minute interactive thing (still leaving 10 minutes for Q and A…or 5 minutes for Q and A and 5 minutes to get in front of the kids before I hide behind the power point).

In general, I think this is a very good idea…except the next place I’m going is Luverne, Minnesota. In Luverne, Minnesota, they probably ARE actually interested in my M is for Minnesota book. I published M is for Minnesota and W is for Wisconsin right around the same time, so whenever I visit schools in Minnesota or Wisconsin, I spend ten minutes talking about those two books (putting the emphasis on whichever book whose state I’m visiting), and showing how two publishers can take the same basic idea (ABC book) from the same author and put out two VERY different looking books. But I don’t mention those books when I visit schools in other states. Adding that section back into my presentation means I’ll have even less room for other things in my power point presentation.

Sigh….I don’t know what to do!!! What do schools REALLY want from a visiting author when they ask for a “general” presentation for the whole school? Do they want the whole time to be taken up by a power point presentation or would they prefer half power point and half something else?

Revising my school visit presentation

10 thoughts on “Revising my school visit presentation

  • February 26, 2007 at 10:30 pm

    Hi there. I’m a lurker here, sent by Lynanne (we’re blog buddies). I’m a former teacher and I’ve got to say that anything you can do to add some interactive elements to the presentation would be much appreciated by both students and teachers. I don’t know how’d you do that on a school wide basis. As teachers we are taught to change activities every 15 minutes because students have really short attention spans. I don’t know how well that advice works for a schoolwide presentation, though, since you can’t really make a personal connection with each of the hundreds of students. I do know that I really liked it when authors would emphasis the writing process, especially revisions.

    • February 27, 2007 at 3:05 pm

      I appreciate your comments! I do try and interact with the students during my power point, too…but your comment on changing activities every 15 minutes is very interesting. That tells me I should definitely go back to a “two part” program. They don’t need to know everything about every book I’ve published…it’s probably more important to do a couple of different things during those general presentations…and revise the power point part of the presentation according to the needs/interests of the particular school I’m visiting. Thanks!

  • February 27, 2007 at 10:33 am

    General presentation

    I mostly talk to senior high students, sometimes middle school, and generally give an extemporaneous talk about how I became a writer/where I get my ideas, then answer questions. I talk about stuff like trying to write as a teenager and never getting past the first paragraph, how writers are observers and which parts of my book came from “spying” on people, how being a lawyer helped me to learn to see both sides of every story, and then, how I got the ideas for my individual books. Sometimes, I talk about my research, including the blood spatter evidence in NOTHING TO LOSE. I vary my presentation depending on the group (Generally, I focus on BREATHING UNDERWATER because it’s “how I got started as a writer” but if the whole group has read BREAKING POINT or FADE TO BLACK, then I focus on that book more) and also, how interested they sound in what I’m saying (If it’s 2:00 and they want to go home, I cut to the blood spatter stuff). I let them ask about the publication process in the Q&A if they’re interested. I got the idea from Terry Trueman of telling them they can interrupt me if they have a question. Generally, they don’t if it’s a big group, but do sometimes in a smaller group, particularly middle school. I leave 10-15 minutes at the end for questions.

    I encourage the school to have smaller groups, if at all possible. I honestly don’t think the whole school is interested, and generally, I have only had to talk to the whole school when my book is an all-school read. Occasionally, they surprise me and ask a lot of questions, even if it’s a huge group, but generally, there’s better interaction with a small group. I’m all about interaction.

    I also offer a writing workshop for 35 or fewer students who are, hopefully, interested in writing.

    I’ve never done a power point and always feel vaguely inadequate that I don’t. The only ones I’ve seen are picture book authors, who show their art, etc., and Ben Mikaelsen, who does a lot of traveling and research and shows photos of that. What do you do in the power point?

    • February 27, 2007 at 3:15 pm

      Re: General presentation

      You just start talking? Do you have things that you show them, too, or do you just talk?

      This is exactly why I joined Toastmasters…to get more comfortable “just talking.” My school visits got A LOT better a few years ago when I threw away THE SPEECH and stopped thinking of the whole thing as “a speech” and thought of it more as “telling these people about my writing.” I can do that (especially when I can lean on my power point)! But even though I don’t have a speech in front of me anymore, it’s still pretty prepared.

      I usually speak to elementary/middle schools. And often it’s the whole school…(I prefer to do writing workshops!) I’m doing my first high school experience in April, which makes me a little nervous because my books really aren’t aimed at students that old, so I’m not sure they’ll be interested in what I have to say. I’m speaking to entire language arts classes.

      As for what’s in the power point…photos, a story I wrote/illustrated when I was in first grade, a rejection slip, marked up manuscript, list of places I sent my first book along with dates I sent it and dates I heard back (to illustrate how long it took to get it published), slides that explain my writing process…

      • February 27, 2007 at 4:23 pm

        Oh, well, don’t get me wrong . . .

        I say a lot of the same things from presentation to presentation. I mean, how many interesting things are there to say. I generally start with the same story, for example, so that gets the ball rolling, and I always talk about how my legal work led me to write my first book (but sometimes, I shorten that story up). Other things vary. If I’m doing a presentation in a school where few or none of the students have read my books, I start by reading an excerpt. I feel like I’m cheating by reading, but meanwhile, it seems so silly to have an author come and not have the kids be familiar with the books. Also, if I’m at a lower income or alt ed school, reading an excerpt helps the kids relate to me more because they can tell my books aren’t high-falutin’.

        When each of my books was published, I created a presentation for bookstore signings, about where I got the idea for the book and stories about writing it. So I use a lot of this stuff for my school visit presentation, depending on how I perceive the interest in each book at the school.

        Thanks for the info about your power point. It sounds like you are mostly just talking, and just using the power point for something to do with your hands. I always wonder what other authors do for their presentations. I’ve heard Sharon Draper speak twice, once at a conference, once at a bookstore. Other than the fact that, at the bookstore, she slightly focused on her most recent book, the presentations were virtually identical to one another, and very similar to my school visit presentation (basically going through each of her books and how she wrote them). I know she’s a popular visiting author, so I figured I must be doing something right! I usually do a different presentation for adults (I have 4 I use, unless the conference has a specific theme), though of course, it incorporates some of the school visit material because it’s my best material.

        • February 28, 2007 at 1:45 pm

          Re: Oh, well, don’t get me wrong . . .

          How is your presentation for adults different?

          I’m not asked to speak to adults all that often, so I’m still struggling with what to talk about. When I spoke at FAME last November, I ended up using mostly the same power point presentation I use for schools (I took out the real “kid-like” slides)…I spoke a little differently to the adults (i.e. wasn’t as interactive), but it was basically the same old how I got started, here are my books and where the ideas for each book came from.

          • February 28, 2007 at 4:04 pm

            Adult presentations

            I have 4 adult presentations I usually do:

            The Safe World of a Book: Why Teens Need Realistic Fiction (about why people should hold their noses and buy those “awful” books for teens)

            Reaching Reluctant Readers (about what makes a book reluctant reader friendly)

            How a Writer Researches

            A writing workshop program for teachers who would like exercises to do with their teens, based on the workshop I do with teens.

            The first two are most popular. Both incorporate some of the same material from the school visit presentation. The third, I only do if I have a bunch of sessions. The fourth, I developed for a reading “institute” where people were expecting to write. I’m developing a program about fairy tale retellings, based upon BEASTLY, but since I only have one book out like that, I feel less comfortable. Therefore, I’m using it as a third workshop at a conference I’m attending.

            At SCBWI, I’ve done writing programs and one about tips for new authors.

          • March 4, 2007 at 7:25 pm

            Re: Adult presentations

            So you must talk about other books besides your own in your “Safe World of a Book” and “Reaching Reluctant Readers” presentations?

            I told my publishers that I would like to do a writing workshop for teachers (incorporating material from various workshops I’ve done with kids and teens), but I haven’t gotten a single invitation to do that. It sounds like that doesn’t fly as well as other subjects…? I know they want things they can take back and use in the classroom…I’m just not sure what else I have to offer along that line other than suggestions for teaching writing.

  • February 28, 2007 at 1:14 pm



    I posted a link to this discussion on my journal, because it’s all about REVISING your school presentation. Interesting things here to think about!


    • February 28, 2007 at 1:50 pm

      Re: link

      I think calling ourselves “writers” is very misleading. We’re really REVISERS, don’t you think? I spend way more of my time revising than I do writing…revising my idea before I start writing, revising as I’m writing, revising after my readers/critiquers have offered their comments, revising for an editor…and yes, I’m constantly revising my author visit presentations.


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