As a children’s author, if you want to get your book out there in front of your intended audience, author visits are vital. Our age group is far less likely to be scouring the latest book blogs or perusing Amazon. We have to bring the books to them where they are. Schools!
Unfortunately, most writers I’ve met including myself, tend to be introverts. Public speaking is something from their nightmares not something they would voluntarily put themselves through. The first time I spoke in front of an audience, I felt physically ill. And kids, boy I tell you, they are honest. They may ask embarrassing questions like “Are you pregnant? (yes that happened) or tell you your book just doesn’t look interesting. But they are also enthusiastic. When they are excited about something you can bet it’s sincere. And what a unique and amazing opportunity we have as authors to speak to children directly and inspire in them a love of reading and writing. By so doing, we are helping keep the print industry relevant to future generations!
Now that I have gotten a good number of talks under my belt, I have acquired a few tips that I’d like to share for the fellow introverts out there who may be considering taking the plunge into the world of public speaking. Some of these may seem obvious, but many of them I wish I’d have known beforehand.
1. Prepare yourself
Being adequately prepared helped me more than anything else. For me this involves writing down a detailed talk to help me get things straight in my head, then I whittle it down to the most important parts. I then take these key elements and create a power point with images that will get the kids excited about the content while simultaneously keeping me on track.
Then I go through the talk in my mind over and over. While in the shower, while washing dishes, before I go to bed, etc. I make the talk become second nature. Once I have a talk down I practice it in front of a test audience using the power point on my computer. If I forget where I am, I just hit the next button and it brings my right back on track, no paper needed.
I practice the talk once for my kids, and once for my husband who purposely raises his hand at inappropriate times and answers questions with unusual answers to help me be ready for anything. Another thing I did to help prepare was pray. Prayer is a great way to help ease your mind and bring you to a place of comfort. He’s in control!
2. Be confident
Easier said than done. But for all these kids know, your as big as J.K. Rowling and you’re taking time off from writing your next best seller to talk to them at their school! Put yourself in their shoes. How cool would that be??
Something I like to do before starting a series of new talks and book signings, is buy myself a new outfit. It may sound trivial, but when you feel good about what you’re wearing, it can really give your confidence a boost.
3. Keep it relevant
Relating to the kids and keeping things relevant to them is so important. It helps keep their interest and excites them to see that you know about things they like and take an interest in what is important to them. This can be expressed in the questions you ask and by using images in your slide show that reflect the current trends.
For example, superheroes are big right now, so in one talk, when I was talking about the powers of the characters in my book, I asked them what kind of super powers they would have if they could choose any. When I spoke about The Hero’s Journey, I used examples not just from books, but also from popular movies and video games, and when I spoke about well rounded characters, I used Naruto (A popular anime character) as and example of someone who has both strengths and weaknesses.
It’s so fun to see their faces light up when they recognize something on the screen, but also be prepared for a little excited chatter. Personally I prefer a little noisy enthusiasm to bored, stark, silence.
4. Keep them involved
I like to encourage participation as much as possible. I add plenty of places where I can ask a question or have a spot for them to share. I’ll ask about their favorite books, what they are currently reading, or if they have some recommendations for me. Whatever helps them feel involved and not just lectured at is great.
Another way to keep them involved is through props. It helps bring your book to life when you can pull out an object from your story and show it to them. I’ve used various props. A mechanical owl, a hangman spider, a haunted journal, and most recently a mechanical kraken that guards the gates to Atlantis. I feel this really helps the story leap from the page and stirs the imagination.
5. Stay hydrated
This should go without saying, but so many times I’ve arrived to give a talk and forgotten to bring water with me. This is especially important if you are giving several talks back to back. If you aren’t used to speaking loudly for long periods of time, it’s really easy to lose your voice.
I would highly recommend honey throat lozenges and an aloe drink. Aloe drinks are gaining popularity in the US and can be found at Asian markets or in many Asian food aisles at your local grocery store. I even found some at Dollar Tree recently.
6. Pace yourself
The tendency, especially if your nervous, is to speed through your talk and get it done as quickly as possible. But when you go too fast it doesn’t allow the content to be absorbed by your audience and they may lose interest.
I often need to remind myself to slow down and speak up, especially during the reading portion when I read part of my book aloud. And when reading your book, enjoy it! It’s not a race. Take your time, pause for dramatic effect, and leave them on a cliff hanger.
Nothing quite as satisfying as hearing dramatic groans because you stopped reading and they want to hear more.
7. Leave them with a memento
Bring something you can hand out to help the kids remember your books and the things you talked about. I like to bring coloring pages of the illustrations in my book and bookmarks. I’ve been surprised to learn that even the older kids enjoy getting coloring pages, and who doesn’t love a colorful bookmark?
This gives them something tangible they can bring home to show their parents and helps them connect to you any your story.
8. Have fun
Cliche I know, but remember that these kids are excited to be there meeting a real author and taking a break from their typical day. This is a treat for them, and even though it can be nerve wracking, it’s always been a treat for me too.
Writing middle grade books or any children’s book, presents a unique challenge for reaching your audience, but also provides a unique opportunity to inspire, encourage and reach the next generation of readers.
9. Treat yo self!
Make your author visits a rewarding experience. Go out and celebrate when you’re done by eating at that new restaurant you’ve been meaning to try, or getting a yummy carton of your favorite ice cream! Food is a great motivator for me, but for you it might be something else. Whatever it may be, don’t skip the celebrating! Not only did you write a book, you faced a challenge head on and you didn’t just survive, you thrived. Be excited, and treat yo self!
I sincerely hope these tips will help you if you are considering doing author visits. Before I started speaking at schools a few years ago, public speaking was my absolute greatest fear. I want you to be encouraged because if I can do this, as person who was too scared to order my own fast food at McDonald’s as a teen, you can do this too! Introverts unite! (In separate places and on different days when we feel like it.)
Do you have any good tips for public speaking? I’d love to hear them. Comment below!