Last Monday I had my first paid school visit. Note, I didn’t say, “my first school visit”. That actually happened last month when I spent the morning with a Grade 3 class at Ecole’ Holy Name school. That first visit was done as a donation of time for a school fundraiser.
This time, however, I went as an honest-to-goodness paid author. It was done through a Writers In Schools program and I was to do two presentations to two Grade 8 classes Monday morning. Forty-five minutes each in the school library.
I’ve known for a few weeks what I was going to talk about: Writing from Experience. I chose that topic because, when I first started to write seriously, I didn’t believe I had done anything interesting enough that people would want to read my work. I knew that was a topic that would resonate with Grade 8′s because, despite the fact you can measure the time I was last in Grade 8 in decades, I haven’t forgotten what it was like.
The question I kept running through my mind was, “How do I get their attention?”
Initially, I was simply going to go and be a talking head. No handouts, no slide show. Just me and my books.
Yes, I realized that might not be the best way to go. Short attention spans and, even if I were do do magic tricks, there is only so much time someone will listen.
So, I mulled over the problem and then I talked to some other authors about what I was going to do. One author told me he made a pretty good living doing what I was about to do. He had presentations prepared for all age groups and it was almost an automatic thing now.
It sounded good, but darn it, the school was paying top dollar for a professional writer (me, in this case) to come in and talk to their students. I didn’t want to short change them.
So I thought some more.
It wasn’t until I went to a local author’s weekend to hear others talk about various topics that I had my aha moment. The speaker was Leanne Shirtliffe, a humour writer. She was talking about writing humour and accompanied her talk with a presentation. It was fantastic! I knew then what I had to do. Create a presentation that incorporated my topic with moments of humour.
I spent several days pulling the presentation together, trying to get it just right. I had to have good information but there also had to be unexpected elements that would make the students do a double-take and then a laugh.
By Monday it was ready. I drove to the school early to get setup (always a good idea because you never know what you are going to be facing) and was ready by the time the first class showed up.
It worked exactly as planned…okay, exactly as I hoped. I had to draw on my backup plan of having my book ready to read with an example of what I was talking about. Still, it was a good morning and I think the teachers, students and librarian were very happy with the results. I know I was.
Lessons learned on this one? Well, preparation is key and always have contingency plans in place. I had originally planned to use my Macbook to connect to a projector. I didn’t have the right connector for their SmartBoard so, I used the presentation I had stored on a USB thumb drive to run on one of their laptops. That and I had my book ready to read if needed. It proved to be the extra prop I needed to round out the presentation.