Friday, June 12, 2015

Author School Visits! Preparing For Your First by Donna Galanti

I had my very first school visits as an author last week. I spent hours creating and practicing a presentation. One was at a middle school creative writing group and the other two presentations were for the 5th and 6th grades at my son’s school. As my anxiety ramped up I was informed of my one goal (according to my son):  DO NOT be boring.

My son and friend getting ready for a skit!

When these visits were planned I sought help – immediately! With no teaching or classroom background I felt miserably unprepared. 

But I had a few ideas of what I wanted to accomplish and that was:
*Inspire and entertain.
*Show my love of storytelling through telling my own story of life.
*Connect to the kids and put a human face to an author.
*Use humor and student involvement to engage them.
*De-mystify the mysterious process of writing.

Since presenting to kids is very much like stage performing I called on an author and theater friend to help me brainstorm. Here are some bullets from our talk that helped me generate ideas to create my presentation.

Start by asking yourself questions, such as:
*How can the kids be just as qualified to be an author like you?
*How can you encourage kids to unplug and read?
*How did you become a better storyteller -  how can they?
*How can real life material feed into fiction?
*What are some events/topics in your book you can incorporate to the storytelling process? For example, is your book about friendship? What makes a good friend?
*How do you generate story ideas – how can they?
*What are some funny tales of your childhood, early writing days, or writing life now?
*What is one thing that excites you about writing?
*How did you get started writing?
*What are the three keys to telling a story?
*Think visually. What pictures can you incorporate from your own life?
*How can you engage the kids with an interactive stage skit or have them create a story, characters, or a world?

Plan and prepare:
Pick an area or two from your brainstorm Q&A and outline your presentation. Keep in mind you may need to narrow your topics based on the event timing. 

Find a connector to the kids and include real life examples/personal stories:
*What activities can you do with the students that would relate to your subject?
*Share writing exercises such as brainstorming and outlining.
*Read a scene from your book and relate it to the process of storytelling.
*Have students act out a story or improvise a skit with your guidance.
*Question and answers.

Visuals: what can you show during a talk?
*Personal pictures such as you as a kid, in your writing office now, places you write, messy desk, rejection letters, your research bookshelves, editing process, or travel research.
*Have a PowerPoint presentation with photos, animated gifs, or video.
*Include a white board or flip pad activity.
*Objects that inspired you to write or real life objects that became a part of your story.

I also sought out workshops in my area on conducting school visits and was lucky to attend Getting the Gigs: Capturing the Spotlight at the Highlights Foundation by Larry Dane Brimner.

Here is what I learned :
*Expect anything! Kids can ask or do anything, especially the younger ones. Write up a list of anticipated questions and create stock answers.
*Limit your time based on grade level and attention space.
*Give kids instructions on how to engage if you have interactive theater skits such as respecting everyone's space, etc.  Find out the school’s “quiet sign” to use.
*Include Q&A for grades one and up.
*Be patient and listen but move along.
*Interject your talk with questions for the kids to engage them as you go along. For example, if your book is about running away ask the kids: what would you pack if you planned to run away?
*Watch your word choice. For example, instead of using the word “stupid” say “silly” instead.
*Take a theater class to be more theatrical!
*Use stories from your own childhood to connect.
*Think about activities in your presentation that the students could follow through on in the classroom.
*Find what is universal in your book to connect with kids: family, friendship, etc.
*If you have volunteers come up on stage also engage the audience.
*Make note of what equipment you need to request from the school and ask about photo release permissions if you have photos taken.

Here is how my presentation came together:
I shared stories of being a young author and what – and who – inspired me to write. I shared some of my first writings and talked about the power of brainstorm and also the 5 R’s of being an author: Reading, (W)Writing, Research, Revision, and Rejection! I shared the challenges and also the rewards of perseverance that come with writing. I wrapped it all up in a slide show of photos, humorous animated gifs (these were a HUGE hit!), and video ending with my book trailer. I then did an interactive 10-minute skit with the kids and ended with Q&A. All in 50 minutes.

Most important I survived it and had a blast and so did the kids! And I got very positive feedback and testimonials from the school staff and librarian about my visit (and my son let me know it was the best author presentation ever. Pheww). But I know I can improve on my presentation, and I signed up for a theater class to become more skilled and at ease in stage performing. 

The one thing that calmed me down was the realization that these kids WANTED me to succeed! They were there to be entertained and I could do this. You can too!


  1. I wish I'd been in the audience for this one. If I ever get to do an author visit, you can be sure I'll be basing it on all your research, Donna.

  2. Hey Michael, thanks! It sure did help to call on a theater-author friend who had the perspective of both sides to make my presentation more entertaining.

    At the Highlights Foundation I plan to take the advanced workshop next spring where we come with a presentation, they video tape us and critique it, and then take us out to a school to present and they advise us on our presentation. Invaluable!

    The biggest hurdle is to find a connector to the kids - and then you have them. They liked hearing my crazy dreams and brainstorms as a kid and how they fed into my story telling. One way to connect that worked for me was to show that they can be just like me, show them my failures, and how I persevered to succeed. One parent especially liked how I spoke about using my real life material to create a fantasy story, because her kids always think they have to make it up when they can in fact, draw on their own experiences to make it up in a fictional world. But I know that I still have much to learn and look forward to improving and changing up my presentation! Now if I only had a musical talent or could juggle or something :)

  3. What fun and what wonderful pictures! Congratulations, Donna!

    1. Thanks Joy! Conquering this hurdle, I now want to learn more. And I would love to sit in on author visits. I'm planning to ask my son's school to sit in on future authors they have visit to see how other folks are doing it - and it may generate some ideas of my own. Has anyone else done this here? Curious!

  4. Great post, Donna!! I love the "expect anything" bullet point!!

    1. Thanks Paul! I am sure you have much to share with your teaching background!

  5. I remember the expect the unexpected and coming with a Plan B, C, D from my student teaching days. Inevitably something would go wrong, but your son's advice was probably my favorite point (DO NOT be boring).
    Sounds like a very entertaining presentation, congrats!

  6. Great post with lots of good advice!

  7. Wow! Sounds like you went from "newbie" to "pro" in 50 minutes! I'm SO impressed! (And you were obviously the opposite of boring.) Congratulations!

  8. Donna, it sounds like your day was a huge success. All the questions you asked yourself in order to prepare were fantastic and coupled with your fun, vibrant, personality, it was certain the kids would connect with you. I've been teaching creative writing workshops for a while now. If you ever want to "chat" over coffee, let me know.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!