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But I’m an unpublished writer, why would anyone invite me to speak in front of their class?”

Are you using that “but I’m an unpublished writer” excuse? Sorry folks, your looking at that the wrong way – try my rose colored glasses on: This is the exact time to start speaking in front of students.

From my own experience, I wasn’t even marketing myself when I was approached to read my first “unpublished” work for a classroom.

Now, before I go into this subject, keep in mind, there is a difference between a classroom visit and getting paid for a speaking engagement at a school. So start small, the first will get you used to the idea of the second.

Elizabeth Rusch touched on this first situation in her presentation (Listen to the Children – How to Get Meaningful Feedback) at the recent RMC-SCBWI Fall Conference. She encouraged the authors and illustrators in the audience to use the classroom as their own learning tool, to get genuine feedback on their stories/pictures from the ones who matter most, the kids. This approach also allows you to get used to speaking in front of groups of children.

The ideas Liz shared can be done at any time in your career, as a newbie looking for insights on your first draft to a seasoned professional (like Ms. Rusch) trying to work out some kinks in her latest story.

My own experiences with speaking in front of a class offered me a chance to do what Liz suggested (get critical feedback), yet also allowed me to do a presentation for the kids.

Interestingly, it came by way of the teachers approaching me, not me approaching the teachers. In one case, Devira Chartrand of Mesa Elementary (5th grade teacher) heard me read at a writer’s workshop hosted by the Boulder Public Library.

Even though her students were older than my demographic, I jumped at the chance to bring them my picture book.

These are important things to discuss up front with the teacher:

  • How long will you have with the class?
  • What interactive activities does she/he want you to include?
  • Does she/he require you to do a presentation (such as being a writer – have some ideas handy to offer suggestions) or should you just focus on what you want to achieve (getting feedback on the topic, getting image ideas…)
  • What are they currently learning about that might tie in with your presentation (maybe they are learning about Van Gogh and you are an illustrator, or they just learned about the civil war and your story is about that same time period)

Below is what I presented to Ms. Chartrand’s class, based on her answers:

1. I started with a presentation called: “I am a writer – what about you?” We discussed:

  • Whether they considered themselves writers and I showed them how they are already using their own writing skills on a daily basis
  • Questions about what it was like to be a writer
  • The oddest and most interesting writing assignments I’ve been paid to do
  • Different jobs available for writers, like copywriter for the makers of their favorite cereal

2. Review of my picture book, “If I Can’t Sleep Tonight”

  • They read my story (which I printed on poster board for easy viewing) – it helps to have other people read to you, because you can hear the flow of the story, plus the teacher and the kids liked the idea of getting to read out loud – each child who was interested, read a sentence
  • I asked open-ended questions to gauge their retention and interest levels
  • Everyone drew their favorite scene with a note saying what they liked about it – I also asked for notes on what they didn’t like and they were glad to share that, too!

With this older group, I began by telling them I knew the story was for younger children, but thought they might be able to help. They were so open to the idea, they ended up providing great feedback on the flow of the story – they surprised me with the help they offered!

Shortly after that visit, I was sharing the experience with a group of women. One of the women (who I didn’t know as well) ended up being a 3rd grade teacher. She asked me to come and speak to her class.

So, you can see, if you truly want to, you can find a way to speak at schools.

But, if you aren’t as fortunate as me, to be in the right place at the right time, try this:

1. Announce to friends, co-workers and family this is your goal – they may know someone who is teaching at a local school

2. Prepare an outline for what you can speak about: “I am a writer, what about you?” is open for grabs – but if you don’t consider yourself a writer, yet, do it on one of these:

  • why you decided to begin to write
  • what qualifies you to talk about the subject of your book
  • or comment about your situation below and I bet, between the other people reading this and me, we’ll find an angle completely appropriate for you

3. Visit schools and ask to talk with the appropriate grade level teacher – if she/he is not receptive, ask her/him which grades might be open to having you come in

4. Volunteer for a preschool – after a few visits, mention you’d like to bring your book in to read to the kids – I bet they’d be delighted to learn they had a budding author in their mix

Now, though this method is great for both getting feedback and getting used to speaking/interacting with the classes, if you are looking for the more advanced methods of getting paid speaking engagements at schools, that is for another post. After all, this post was called School Visits: How to begin?.

How did this post help?

Did you have other ideas to share with beginners?

Either way, feel free to comment below:

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I am categorizing this as a STARTER post – meaning – for someone just starting to build an online presence.

I received this email today, from someone who attended the conference – are you in the same boat as her? If so, hope this post helps:

QuestionQ: I need a really good, comprehensive glossary about Internet terminology and especially about Internet commerce terminology. Where can I get one? Is there a web site where I can look-up terms free?

(At the conference) Even a little bit of what you said, I did not understand, but I was too embarrassed to raise my hand to ask. You tried to make the audience feel free to ask whatever we needed to know, but some things are just so basic that I did not feel free, despite your efforts. – Anonymous

Here is my answer to her:

A: Never feel uncomfortable asking a question – if someone gives attitude, just remind them that they probably didn’t know what it meant at one time, either!!! And then start giving them terminology from something you are an expert on that they know nothing about. For instance, I know ‘nothing’ about cooking! So, it is easy to stump me there! hehe!

As for defining terms, I usually do the following to find out what something technical means:

  1. Go to Google
  2. Type in “define:” (without the quote marks)
  3. Then type the term you are looking for – so for instance, if you were looking for the definition of “ecommerce” type in define: ecommerce

It will bring you to a list of definitions – here is the link to the above mentioned search.

Also when in doubt, try wikipedia.org – it is a free online encyclopedia.

If you don’t mind, I’d love to post your question and the answer on the blog – for the others who were afraid to raise their hands. I can leave your name out, if you are more comfortable being anonymous. Just let me know.

What part of what I said didn’t you understand (from the conference or this email)? I tried to put definitions into the presentation whenever possible, but of course there are words that I take for granted, and should NOT. So, let me know, if you remember, and I will try to answer them on the blog for you and others.

Hope that helps,
Bethany

OK: Now for the rest of you who were uncomfortable raising your hands, you can either write an anonymous comment below or use the contact me page to send me a private note. I look forward to helping you.

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