What I've learned about speaking engagements

     Well, Paco has been properly celebrated with awesome kick-offs at the Alabama Book Festival, Cedar Valley Arts Festival, the Georgia Center for the Book, Mami y Yo, Barnes & Noble, The Reading Tree, and Little Shop of Stories. I finally get to sit back and relax (HA!). I tell you - with having to be at so many engagements, sometimes back to back, I have developed a system for creating a smooth presentation, so I thought I'd share my method.
     First is the bag. I use my SCBWI Southern Breeze tote to carry a copy of all my picture books, book marks, signing pens, a bottle of water, my camera, my drawing supplies (black pencils and pastels), publisher catalogues and postcards, and the folder. I keep it together so I can just grab it and go.
     The folder (which goes in the bag). I bought a bunch of yellow school folders and printed stickers with my name to adhere to the front. In the pockets I include a bio page with photo, a list of my books with a quick summary of each, information on school visists, master copies of my coloring pages and word find puzzles, bookmarks, and my invoice with a feedback form and a self addressed stamped envelope (if it applies). Most of these items are available for download beforehand on my Media Page (even how to pronounce my name), but I like to make sure I have a hard-copy with me. Loosely I include google maps if I'm driving to a destination which I'm not familiar with, and a print out of the contact information for all the key people I will be dealing with (including phone numbers in case I should become unexpectedly delayed). If I'm meeting with new people, media specialists or people who may be interested in inviting me to future engagements - I pull out the maps and info page, and give them the folder for future reference.
     Next, the illustration demonstration supplies. Having been to a few book signings early on where they didn't have an appropriate (or easy) easel, I finally bought my own. I converted a fold up chair nylon bag thingie with a handle into my over the shoulder easel carrier. I also have to carry a large drawing pad - again because I never know what they might supply me with and it's a variable better left figured out. I am probably going to reassign one of my big old portfolios to carry the drawing pad, as it's awkward and unruly (especially in wind or rain).
     In my purse I make sure my cell phone is fired up (but off during my presentation). I also keep book marks and signing pens in my purse at all times.
     The bod. It's ironic what you have to think about when you'll be in front of a crowd, but here you go. I dress casually, but ironed, clean and put together. I tend to dress a bit more colorfully than I do in my daily life. I also watch the neck lines - we tend to lean over a lot with kids - I don't need to make it a ride for the parents. And not that I wear short skirts anymore, but that could also cause trouble when your audience is at coffee table level (and I often end up on the floor with the kids). I have also figured out I have to have my hair held back in some manner, dangit. I have long hair, it falls in my face. Fine for every day, but not when a crowd is trying to fallow along with you and it's important you stay connected with them.
     Finally, the presentation. I end up speaking to all different age groups, so I have a library of activities in my head appropriate for each. The littlest ones are good with a reading, a demonstration, and coloring pages. A little older, and you can play some games too. The main thing is to keep them involved to hold their attention. For even older (4th grade and up) I have a slide show about what it's like to be an illustrator. Now I know a lot of people carry around projectors and laptops with power point and the like, but I'm not a good trouble-shooter and those things can have LOTS of problems at the last minute. What's worked for me lately is I have a slide show, created through my .mac account, hidden in my website. I share the link if I'm going to be using it, then I let the venue worry about getting it set up. They know what works best for them, so I let them handle it and they can get any kinks worked out long before I get there. So far, it's worked beautifully. (It does require they have internet access at the venue, but these days that is becoming more and more common and has not been an issue.)
     Giveaways - yup. Good idea. I've given away everything from coloring pages and bookmarks to maracas and sombreros (ordered from the Oriental Trading Company). The sombreros were a bit big and unruly, but when I saw the look in the eyes of the kids who won them (during a quick Spanish quiz after reading Paco) it made it worth it. Giveaways don't have to be expensive, so get creative!
     If books will be available for sale, I let the booksellers handle that end. (Hopefully we've been in touch beforehand and I've supplied them with all the ISBN #s and the title of the book I'll be featuring.) I just keep my pens handy. It does help if they supply sticky notes for people to write the names for the dedications. It's amazing how creative people can get with the spelling of some of the most common names and you don't want to get it wrong! I also have tag lines I use for signing each book. After a while, your hand will write it without a lot of thinking which is important because people always want to talk to you while you're signing - you need to be able to multi-task.
     And speaking of being in touch beforehand, most events are scheduled months in advance. I touch base as we get closer (in time for books to be ordered if necessary), and again a week before and the day before the event so I know they are expecting me and everything will be in order. It also helps to drum up excitement and get me focused on what's coming. It's also important to have one main contact person for this - this is often the same person I hand my camera to before I speak. I ask them to please try to include the audience in the pictures (as a picture of me alone is purty darned boring and doesn't share the feel of the venue). And I make sure to let everybody know I'll be blogging about the event and have free activities on my website.
     So that's it. This is my method for making sure my presentations go smoothly, that I have everything with me, and that I can leave fun things behind for the audience to remember me. But even with everything in place, it's important to remain flexible. You can't control the size of the crowd (which will vary wildly) or their moods (expect that you will sometimes have kids who misbehave). And you need to be creative on the fly. But that's part of what makes speaking engagements so enjoyable - they're a constant puzzle of how best to entertain the audience you have and they can be lots of fun to do!


L. Murray said...


I just finished reading your article in the SCBWI bulletin about The Snowball Effect. Which sent me to your website - which is wonderful by the way. Which sent me to your blog - where I found a gold mine of wonderful advice on promotion and school visits. Thank you so much! As a new author, whose first picture book is coming out July 2011, I am doing lots of research on this. Your posts have been so helpful. I will pass your site along to others. Good luck to you! I enjoyed reading about your journey with Soap, Soap, Soap! - Laura Murray

Elizabeth O Dulemba said...

Laura, Thanks so much for your nice comment and I'm so glad my information is helpful to you! :) e