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FEATURE TOPIC: Expert Tips for Author Visits

Q: FEATURE TOPIC: Expert Tips for Author Visits

Each fall, thousands of children’s authors and illustrators start a ten month cycle of working at home and traveling to schools and libraries to promote their books. Some stay within a day’s drive of home, others travel across the country. The kit bag for this trip can contain presentation materials as basic as pencils and paper, or as elaborate as a multi-media presentation. The presenters can work off the cuff, or they can have evolved programs using voice and acting techniques. There’s no right answer, so don’t be afraid to experiment and learn from other authors and illustrators. Here are suggestions from Ilene Abramson, Director of Children’s Services for the Los Angeles Public Library and Joan Grant, a professional actress and consultant on acting techniques about programming ideas and techniques you can try.

As Director of Children’s Services for the Los Angeles Public Library and its 71 branches, Ilene Abramson and the librarians in the regional library system run thousands of programs each year. Abramson’s view is that “Although we are living in a world of technological bells and whistles children still love to hear stories, be read to, and play “make believe.”

In her work with kids, she’s used simple storytelling techniques:

* reading aloud
* telling the story with silly mistakes that kids can correct
* letting the group decide the story’s direction by having each person add a little bit

And more elaborate ones, such as:

* Reader’s Theater, in which the story is rewritten as a play the kids can act out
* Radio Theater, which also incorporates sound effects (ie. bells; whistles; shoes to clop)

Illustrators may also want to tie in activities that encourage children to think about the story in different ways. They can encourage young children to:

* Draw their own version of the characters from the book
* Make a craft of an object found in the book, or that is from the book’s time period

Joan Grant is a professional actress based in Newtown, Connecticut, who consults on presentations skills using acting techniques as a basis. These techniques can be helpful whether you’re overcoming stage fright or building stage presence.

She says, “Most of us get nervous before speaking. As an actress, I usually feel a little jittery before my entrance, but there are tried and true actor’s “tricks” you can use:

Ask yourself at what time during the day you feel at peak performance. If your talk is not at that time, find a personal way to compensate for lack of focus or energy; maybe a yoga class earlier that day, a jog, or eating a power bar before you leave for the engagement.

Identify the qualities you possess that make it easy for you to speak. Breathe deeply when you have difficulty. It will focus and relax you – and no one will notice; they will think of it as a “dramatic pause.”

Choose your “costume” consciously. Wear something that makes you feel terrific – not just comfortable but powerful and in command.

Be aware of yourself in your surroundings. Stand – don’t pace without a purpose – in a relaxed and an erect position. Keep hands comfortably at your side only to be used for a specific gesture; never indiscriminately. Your hands are great props, use them to create pictures, not for fidgeting.”

Know that the fluttering in your stomach is your friend. IT MEANS YOU’RE ALIVE. Think of it as a springboard to propel you into the good graces of your audience.

Remember these numbers: 55%, 38%, 7%. It is documented through a study by Dr. Albert Merabian at UCLA that the impact a speaker makes on his or her audience is: 55% Visual, 38% Vocal, and 7% Verbal. It is, therefore, crucial to make solid eye contact with groups of audience members; finish a thought and move on- no scanning; project your voice so all can hear your enthusiasm and passion; keep your posture strong and stay in command of the room; create verbal pictures with your hands (props); use humor if it is natural to you and related to your topic; use an anecdote or story for personalization; hone your message as if you were sculpting Michelangelo’s David. The words you speak must be meaningful — nothing without a purpose- and those well-chosen words make a greater impact if you concentrate on how you speak them.

Rehearse, Rehearse, and Rehearse Some More. Work your talk out by yourself, keeping the above in mind. If you can snag a friend or colleague, deliver it to them. Rehearsal is where you are encouraged to take your time, take chances, make mistakes and try new and different tactics. Use this time to develop and polish your work. Rehearsal will give you the confidence you need to incorporate yourself into your speech.

Check The Venue Out Beforehand. Make sure you arrive at the room early. This will give you an opportunity to get a feel for the room and for how your voice will travel when all those chairs are filled. Sit in the audience and experience the way in which they will see you. Then go “onstage” and imagine speaking to your audience. Place yourself in the most advantageously visual position. Don’t use a microphone unless you must, and if you must use one, check it during this time. A mic only amplifies your voice, it doesn’t carry your passion unless you put it there.

Acknowledge Distractions. Notice potential distractions and be prepared to acknowledge them if they happen. You can turn a negative into a positive. Chat briefly with the audience as they arrive thus making sure they are with you.

Be Yourself And Enjoy!
Have fun with your talk. If you are having fun, so will everyone else.”

Ilene Abraham believes that you have a great advantage as authors and illustrators because “the magic of the tale and the birth of a picture will always capture the attention of a youngster’s imagination. These “program” tips might add sugar to your presentations but true merit comes from your artistic and literary talents.” 11:12/05