I’ve been doing a lot of school assemblies lately throughout the state of Utah. And I’ve learned some seriously important things. I won’t give you the wretched details of how I came to know all these things, but take my word for it.
The top ten most important things I’ve learned are as follows:
- Use the restroom first. Nothing is more wretched than doing the potty dance in the middle of your own presentation.
- Wash your hands (duh). And dry them THOROUGHLY. You will want to shake the hands of the principle and the librarian. Nothing worse than soggy palms because you have an aversion to those hand dryers or because you were too hasty in your use of the paper towels.
- Make sure you do up all zippers, buttons, etc. Make sure things that are supposed to be tucked in are tucked and those that aren’t stay out.
- Keep a kleenix in your pocket in case you need to sneeze. A thousand kids saying, “ewwwwww!” in your presentation when you weren’t purposely trying to be gross . . . well, that’s bad.
- Keep a water bottle handy in case your throat gets dry. A hacking cough really throws off a rhythm.
- Do a power point–kids are trained to look at the big screen in front of them
- Don’t put lame stuff in your power point. Snoring children isn’t your goal.
- Be funny where possible, but don’t try too hard. Funny should be natural. If you don’t do funny, then know it can’t be forced.
- Do not make your presentation nothing but an hour long infomercial of “buy-my-book”
- Make the presentation about THE KIDS NOT YOU!
The last one is the most important thing I can advise. A really awesome author, James A Owen, said something that rang so true to me. He said, “If I am given the attention of five hundred middle-school students for an hour, and only that hour, I’m not going to talk about my books – I’m going to talk about the things that I believe are most important in this life; about things I believe are True, and meaningful, and worth sharing.”
There is very little in my presentation about my books. Seriously. I spend about 2 minutes on my books. My presentations are about literacy, believing in our own potential, believing that each individual human being has something magical and amazing to offer the world. Because I agree with James. If I’ve got an hour, and only that hour, there are way more important messages to give than, “Hey, kid, buy my book.” My presentation is about living without limits on your own awesomeness. Why should it be anything else? What if my presentation is the only place some of those kids ever hear that they can achieve great things? Wouldn’t it be tragic if instead of selling those kids on themselves I was instead trying to sell them on my books?
I had a few assemblies last week where I spoke to over 2000 kids. They were great. The kids were amazing in every way. I love doing assemblies and feeling that rush afterward. At my book signing at the library later that night, I ran into one of my friends who happened to work there. She was blinking in shock at the two hour long parade of kids tramping through her library. She asked me one simple question, “What did you do to make them all come out tonight?”
I told them the truth.
I told them they were amazing. That they were brilliant. That they had the right to shine on the world in the same way that the star Antares shines from over a thousand light years away. I told them they had no limits to the great things they could accomplish.
The truth is powerful.
Youth are powerful if they only dare let themselves believe it.
And as writers, we have the power to tell them.
So I guess this post is really a bit of an admonition. I’ve heard many principles sigh and tell me of how disappointed they were in other authors because they felt like they’d yanked the kids out of useful class time just to hear a commercial. They were relieved my presentation was different. It makes me sad that I hear this comment over and over again. Truly consider authors. You have an hour with several hundred kids.
What message do you want to give them?