I had several days of school visits last week. It was close enough that I was able to drive back and forth every day, which was nice…I was able to see my family every day (not to mention my best friend, whose father ended up in the hospital) and sleep in my own bed. I lost track of how many kids I saw and how many schools were represented. I spoke at one elementary school, two middle schools and then the majority of my presentations were given at the school district office…and the kids were bussed in. The district office was a church! (Apparently the actual church had moved out of the building and into a mall.) I’ve never spoken in church before (unless you count Christmas pageants I was in as a kid).

And yes, we actually used the sanctuary. The kids sat in the pews and I was right up at the front of the church like a minister or priest. I felt a little too weird about going up the steps in the front and speaking from “on high.” So I stayed down with the masses (except when I did my little how-a-book-gets-published demonstration…I did that from “on high” because there were kids up there with me).

My poor hostess sat through SEVEN of my presentations. I’m always looking for suggestions on how I can improve my author visit presentations, so I figured since she’d seen it SEVEN times, she might have some ideas. Never ask a question you’re not prepared to hear the answer to. Early in my presentation I talk about how quiet and shy I was as a kid and how I never would’ve been able to do what I’m doing now back then (i.e. get up in front of a crowd and give a “speech”). In fact, that was how I came to write my first “novel”…we had a big speech unit (in English class) when I was in sixth grade and I didn’t do very well on it. So…to bring my grade up, I asked my teacher if I could write a novel for extra credit. He said yes, so I did…

Well, when I asked my hostess if there was anything I could do to improve my presentation, she said, “Well, I can tell you’re still pretty uncomfortable in front of a crowd.” This freaked me out a little bit because I WASN’T uncomfortable! Not at all! I actually enjoy speaking to kids…I know the material (hey, I’m talking about MYSELF…what’s not to know?)…and kids are just so happy to see you that you could stand up there and read the phone book and they’d still look at you with awe. What’s to be nervous about??? (I DO still get a little nervous when I speak to adults, but not when I’m speaking to kids. ) So then I got all paranoid. What in the world did I do that gave her the impression I was nervous??? (Maybe I’ll bring one or two of my Toastmasters friends with me next time I do a local presentation and get some feedback from them?) She said I just have kind of a soft voice and I stayed at the front of the room. Which was true because I was attached to a microphone and there was a power point set up between the two pews, which made it difficult to go too far. She said they’ve had authors before who jump all over the room (I was trying to figure out whether she wished I was one of those authors). I immediately thought of Bruce Coville, who is “self-contained”…he doesn’t use power point OR a microphone…and well, he kind of jumps all over the room. It would be very cool to be Bruce Coville when I grow up, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. It’s just not in my personality to be a performer like that. I’m a presenter, not a performer.

The good news is I DID get e-mails from several teachers/librarians who heard my presentation and liked it. In fact, they mentioned specific things they liked about my presentation…and one even said she would remember it for a long time (I THINK that was a good thing.).

But I took that other thought (the “I can tell you’re still nervous in front of a crowd”) with me to my final school on Friday…where, on top of the negative self-talk that was going on inside my head, the power point that was supposed to be set up for me was not working. (Well, I’m sure the power point would’ve been fine…if they could have gotten to it. They were using a school computer that needed to be logged in to and for some reason they couldn’t log in.) It was okay…I have my power point presentation on overhead transparencies, too, and I always carry them with me. This was the first time I’ve ever had to use them. (BTW, they got the computer working for my second presentation so I could use the power point then.) But unfortunately, they spent so much time fiddling with the computer that my presentation was cut short and I didn’t have time to get to the how-a-book-gets-published demonstration. I’m not sure who felt worse about all this…the media specialist at this school or me. (And then, of course, I felt bad that SHE felt bad…)

Two thoughts went through my head…1) maybe I should go back to carrying my own power point equipment…it probably wouldn’t have happened if I had my own stuff…and 2) this does not happen to Bruce Coville! Because he is “self contained.” (I wish I could be self contained…but without my power point, the audience is stuck looking at me…and I’m just not all that interesting to look at…because, you know…I don’t jump around.)

Despite the title of this post, I really did have a good time. These were great kids…great teachers and great media specialists. The kids participated…they raised their hands…they laughed in the right places, gasped in the right places…and when I asked “how many of you have read Trading Places with Tank Talbott?” every hand went up! I LOVE going into schools where the kids have actually read my books!

School visit woes

6 thoughts on “School visit woes

  • October 23, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    Concentrate on all the great comments people emailed to you. You felt confident so don’t second guess yourself. Also- Bruce came to my school last year and he didn’t move from the front…no jumping! He had everyone’s attention just like you did.

    Teachers are so busy that if they took the time to email you, WOW..you really made a connection with them. Congrats!

    • October 23, 2007 at 7:20 pm

      Thanks…you’re right, of course. But it’s always so much easier to focus on one negative comment than a bunch of positive comments.

  • October 24, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    Warrensburg, Mo

    I saw you speak at University of Central Missouri and you were so inspiring. My college students talked about your story of the man in the white van all the way home to Columbia College in Columbia. They loved the story about hitting the ball farther than the boys.
    Now I’m teaching at Western New Mexico University and I need a way to connect the students to authors. We are so remote, there is no chance to get authors to come here to speak to our boys and girls. Do you have a video of your presentations that we could show? Thanks for your great stories. Sliding into Home is a favorite.
    Dr. Ann Harvey, Assistant Professor of Reading.

    • October 25, 2007 at 2:51 am

      Re: Warrensburg, Mo

      Thank you! I LOVED that festival in Warrensburg!

      The story about hitting the ball was probably mine…but I’m not sure about the man in the white van story…that may have been someone else?

      I’m sorry, but I don’t have a video of any of my presentations. I really enjoy visiting schools and connecting with the kids, so I really wouldn’t want a video circulating…I’d much rather have the school invite me.

      Are you SURE there’s “no chance” you could get authors to visit you??? I LOVE New Mexico (I’ve only been there twice)…I’d love to do school visits there. (There are very few places I WOULDN’T go…)


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