Tuesday, February 1, 2011

School Visit Tips

Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels P.J. Hoover, K.A. Holt, and Jessica Lee Anderson recently visited Baranoff Elementary for their annual Young Authors’ Conference.

We each had a wonderful time, and to top off the great experience, we received a packet of fan mail following our visit. What could be more special? In addition to sharing these gems, we also wanted to share our top three school visit tips.

P.J. Hoover’s Top 3 School Visit Tips:

1. Be prepared. For anything. The projector may not work. Your computer may not boot up. You might have to *shudder* wing it. Put your presentation on a memory stick in addition to your computer. Be able to talk even without PowerPoint. And most of all, bring your own water bottle.

2. For large groups of young kids, practice and enforce the "hand raising" thing. Ditto older kids. Crowd control can be flushed down the toilet in the blink of an eye without a plan in place. And even then you're walking on precarious ice. You don't want to have to be the mean author who tells the kids over and over and over they need to settle down.

3.Make it fun. This may sound obvious, but kids want to be involved. They want to have a chance to answer questions. They want to get excited. This is your chance to play-act being a kid again. Remember how cool you thought celebrities were when you were young? Be that celebrity.

K.A. Holt’s Top 3 School Visit Tips:

1. Engage. It's great to have a PowerPoint presentation and a speech prepared, but don't forget you have an eager, captive audience. Ask THEM questions, move around the group, offer help if you've given them a writing project... let them know that you're not just there as A Person Who Writes Books, but as a fellow writer who thinks they're just as cool as they think you are.

2. It's OK to deviate. Sometimes, no matter how prepared you are, something goes wonky. Computers crash, cables go missing, kids are added to your once small group, etc. You have to be able to be flexible with your presentation and cater it to the demands of the day. It's a good idea, while you're preparing for your visit, to run through some alternative scenarios. Sure, you can't plan for everything, but you can at least know what you'll do if the projector breaks.

3. Relax. Even if you hate public speaking more than anything in the world, realize that speaking in front of kids about your work is one of the most rewarding things you can do as an author. You have your book's audience right in front of you. They're eager to hear you speak, to ask questions, to see what you're like. There's some pressure to that, yes, but there's also freedom.

Jessica Lee Anderson’s Top 3 School Visit Tips:

1. Plan ahead. Know exactly where you need to go and what time you have to be there and how much time you have for the visit. Allow plenty of time for traffic, detours, parking, registration, a trip to the bathroom, etc. Know what is expected of you prior to the visit so you can come as prepared as possible. Create backup plans if you can.

2. Be professional, and be yourself. Just like you’re honest in your writing, be honest in your visits (without being inappropriate, of course). Your audience wants to learn about you and they want you to connect with them. Share your struggles as well as your successes. Know what works for you as a speaker and what doesn’t by practicing, and play up your strengths so you’ll feel calmer and come across as more natural.

3. Have a sense of humor. This certainly helps when a kindergartner sticks a finger between your toes while you’re speaking (tip 3.A—it is probably best to avoid wearing sandals), a middle school student decides to jokingly propose marriage to you during your presentation, or when you trip over a bundle of wires in front of a very, very large crowd. Laughing at these sorts of things will help you keep your cool and make the visit more fun.

Any school visit tips you’d like to share?


  1. Great tips, Thank you. I've got a few school visits planned in the next few months, and these tips certainly help tone down my "stage fright."

  2. Thanks, Kris! We hope your visits are a blast!

  3. Thanks for the tips. To be honest, the thought of a school visit is scary. You've made it a little terrifying. Thanks.

  4. LOL, Natalie! I was terrified the first few times I spoke in public, but it is SOOOOO much easier now to the point where I really enjoy it.

  5. These tips are all spot-on! Here's another one to go with the "don't wear sandals": no matter how adorable he is, do NOT succumb to 6th grade boy's request to "just sign my arm." Sure there's a rock-star rush, but a hundred arms later, it's not nearly so much fun... thanks, sweethearts!

  6. Irene, you are a doll! I LOVE this. OMG, so funny.
    Okay, no arm signing.

  7. Irene, your comment completely made me laugh! Thanks for sharing!