Want to be a children’s author? Here’s why you need to learn to present to kids

I remember the first time I ever visited a school as an author. My first book, Race To The End Of The World (The Mapmaker Chronicles #1), was coming out and my publisher had mentioned lining me up with a program of author visits in schools as part of the promotion strategy.

Wait, what?

Terrified, I contacted my son’s grade four teacher and asked if I could come in and practice, to try to get an idea of what would work in front of a room full of kids – and what would not. She said yes, and I hit Google, trying to figure out what an author visit looked like (see picture of Allison’s school visit above) and what I’d need to cover.

But all the tips in the world couldn’t help me once I was standing in front of 60 kids – two classes – all looking at me to deliver… something. On the plus side, they knew me, so at least the faces were friendly. But familiarity can also be a problem. These kids knew me as my son’s mum, and now I had to convince them I was a real author.

Fast forward nearly a decade, and I’ve now spoken to thousands of kids. Yep, thousands, in groups large and small, and if I could give a new children’s author one piece of advice, it’s this: get on top of your presenting skills early.

Presenting in schools is not only a great way to spread the joy of reading and writing, and to get kids excited about your books, it’s a terrific income stream for children’s authors, particularly in term three, when everyone wants an author at their Book Week celebrations.

And there are things you need to think about, beyond just the basic public speaking skillset.

Here’s a handy list to consider.

1. Different age groups need different approaches

I write middle-grade fiction, which is read by kids from eight to fourteen, depending on their abilities and interests. That means I’m called upon to talk to kids from grades three to eight, and sometimes even grades nine and ten.

Rather than reinventing the wheel every time, I’ve learnt (the hard way, I confess) how to adapt my presentations for different school stages. Grade five, for instance, love interactive sessions where they can answer your questions and show off what they know. Ask a year eight group the same questions and the silence will not only be deafening but oppressive.

2. Every kid will not love you

Not only will every kid not love you, but some of them will go out of their way to let you know it. Learning to manage a group of kids – sometimes up to 200 or more if you’re presenting at an assembly – or just deciding how you’ll deal with interruptions and unruly behaviour is an important skill for author presenters.

In the early days, I really envied my author peers who had teaching backgrounds because they remained undaunted in the face of the wigglers and the hecklers. There are different ways to bring the crowd back to you and learning to do it early in your career is a huge bonus.

3. Be prepared for disaster

Technology does not always work, venues are not always what you expect. I have presented to kids in a marquee on a hot, humid day where a student passed out in the back row. I have presented in university lecture theatres where my PowerPoint failed to load.

The key to being a great presenter is being able to deliver your presentation under every possible condition, and that takes preparation and practice.

4. It’s not all about you – but remember to make some of it about you

For me, one of the joys of presenting to school groups is the ability to make sure they learn some new writing skills. The idea that a kid will leave my sessions and be inspired to write their own stories is partly why I present.

But I realised a few years ago that I was so busy inspiring kids that I’d forgotten the other reason I was there – to get them excited about my books!

It’s important to remember that you’re in that room as a writer, not as a teacher. Yes, make the most of the opportunity to share your passion and teach some skills, but never forget that it’s your stories that make you who you are. The balance is not always easy to learn!

5. It’s not just a presentation

Every time you stand up in front of a group of kids, whether it be six kids in an ‘extension’ workshop or 200 kids at a festival or assembly, you’re there to perform.

Your job is ‘children’s author’ and your job description is ‘excite, inspire, educate, promote’. Which is not to say that you have to do back flips across the stage or TikTok dances (though both of these things do work for authors that I know). Being a successful presenter is about figuring out your own style and then turning that style into a performance.

One thing I learned very quickly about presenting to kids is that it’s exhausting. It involves a huge output of energy – no backflips required. And when you have to repeat that session two or three times a day, as children’s authors often do, it means repeating that energy output as well.

Managing your performances so that you don’t deplete your energy sources in the first session is a key part of managing school visits. And is essential in August, when you might be on the road for weeks on end, repeating your performances ad nauseam.

If you’re looking to develop your presenting skills as a children’s author, I highly recommend the Presenting to Kids course by Nat Amoore and Cathie Tasker. Nat is one of Australia’s most in-demand children’s authors for school visits, literary festivals and more. Yes, she is one of the backflippers mentioned above, but she also understands that different authors have different styles, and her course is designed to help you develop yours.

Author bio
Author Allison Tait smilingAllison Tait is the author of three epic middle-grade adventure series for kids: The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries. A presenter at AWC and former co-host of the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast, Al is currently editing her latest middle-grade novel The First Summer of Callie McGee. Find out more about her at allisontait.com.

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