Thursday, July 21, 2016

Antics of Engagement


Being an author brings frequent opportunity to engage with readers and the community. Engagement can take many forms, from e-forums, school and library visits, signings, to writer/reader specific events and festivals. As a YA author, I’ve also learned never to assume who will be in each audience.

Writing a book is a very different activity to presenting a practical writing workshop or delivering an encouraging theme related talk. Given the YA tag, for general author visits I often see a high proportion of children attending, along with older young people and their parents, which is really cool. There’s also an equal likelihood that a range of adults up to (or beyond!) eighty may be present. This also is fantastic, as I have a lot of adult readers too, but it presents me with the challenge of engaging a vast range of reading levels, attention spans, and interests.
So how does one prepare for a child friendly event that will appeal to adults, while holding the attention of young people? I wish I could give you a simple answer. My approach has been very much trial and error. Thankfully I’ve had mostly positive experiences (mostly …), but I’ve found something a teacher friend told me once has been sound advice.
Prepare well, take charge, and don’t be afraid to look silly.

I took this to mean I should target my sessions at the more distractible ages, whilst including elements that can go a little deeper, and ensure I have fun—because if I’m having fun, so will they. This rang true with what I’d learned from many years in tertiary education, with frequent community and school engagement. Over time, this is pretty well how my sessions have developed.

The beauty of having young people at an event is no one thinks it’s unusual if you do a few crazy things. We’ve had scavenger hunts, dressing up with main protagonist look-alike masks, relay-type team competitions etc. (You should come to my book launches!) My most recent author visit was a game show style event with learning on select writing topics, interspersed with related challenges and giveaways. An interactive audience always helps.

Even if people look at me like I’m an alien at first (hey, you can’t please everyone), they generally get used to me by the end. Sometimes they even join in. Yay!

Probably the most important thing I’ve learned from all these shenanigans is to own the session. As my friend advised – prepare, prepare, prepare. But also, have the conversations you need with associated teachers or event organisers in advance regarding crowd management, available resources, timing etc. The other important thing I’ve learned is to have a backup plan. (I’m still developing this skill.) If something’s not working, have an established escape hatch that will lead to a potentially more engaging option.

There’s much more I could share, but if you’re a writer and you’ve not yet launched yourself on some unsuspecting audience (I do mean in a positive way …), be encouraged to put yourself out there—and have fun. It’s a great experience and one that can lead to really positive interactions, for yourself and the community.

Adele Jones is an award winning Queensland author. She writes young adult and historical novels, poems, inspirational non-fiction and fictional short works, along with juggling family responsibilities and a ‘real job’ in the field of science. Her first YA novel Integrate was awarded the 2013 CALEB Prize for unpublished manuscript. Her writing explores issues of social justice, humanity, faith, natural beauty and meaning in life’s journey, and as a speaker she seeks present a practical and encouraging message by drawing on these themes. For more visit www.adelejonesauthor.com or contact@adelejonesauthor.com 

18 comments:

  1. I know you've had plenty of practice in this Adele and well done to you. Loved what your teacher taught you: "Prepare well, take charge and don't be afraid to look silly". Relating to multiple ages IS a big challenge so one definitely needs to be well prepared. As for looking silly, hmmm! Interesting. :) And yes, if the speaker has fun the audience would as well to be sure. Thanks for many useful tips Adele!

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    1. Appreciate you comment, Anusha. I agree that the number one prerequisite is preparation. (Although I have had to 'wing it' on the odd occasion.) As a well seasoned presenter yourself, I'm sure you could share some gems from your own engagement antics. :)

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  2. Sometimes it's hard to come up with new ideas to entertain an audience, that's for sure!

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    1. It certainly can be a creative adventure, Lynne. There are times we experience writers block, but we can also presenter's block, too. I guess the cure is also similar. Just keep plugging out ideas until something starts to take shape.

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  3. Hi Adele = Thanks for the post. Some great ideas there, love your creativity :) Will have to come to for ideas when I launch my Akrad series.

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    1. Sounds like fun, Jeanette. I'm sure you could also enlist some 'Quirky' assistance for brainstorming for the event. (What better to think up nutty ideas than doing so with friends!!!!! :D )

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  4. Antics of Engagement - love your title!
    Tough gig with such a big age range to speak to. You are one creative girl Adele, dressing up and relays has my imagination thinking how much fun this must be!

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    1. Thanks, Di. I think creativity is sparked in a similar way to innovation - by necessity. :) It certainly can be fun, though. A session built around an interactive theme also seems to encourage greater audience engagement. It's always a bonus when you have an enthusiastic audience.

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  5. Good for you, a wonderful way to engage your audience, Adele. I agree you must 'own' your presentation. I have fun with my Victorian Etiquette. Maybe I'm hiding behind this 'over the top' very proper British governess, yet it's like I become her. At my summary I have to remove my old fashioned specs, hat & gloves to become myself again. And yes, if you throw yourself in wholeheartedly in anything, then your audience rides along with you.

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    1. Oh, I love the idea of dressing up, Rita. You must have a lot of fun around that. Did you have costumes specifically made for your author events, or did you stumble across them in an op-shop or similar?

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    2. A little of both, Adele. My optometrist actually gave a pair of antique specs with my script.

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    3. That's gorgeous. How lovely of your optometrist to do that for you.

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  6. Hi Adele,
    That's all great advice. If we were afraid to look silly, we'd get a lot less done, that's for sure. I love the creativity and imagination you've shown in your public events. I hope there are many more to come.

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    1. Agreed, Paula. We'd definitely get a lot less done if we were afraid to look silly! LOL. Sometimes I look at a topic and wonder how I can make it fresh and engaging, but it's a bit like developing a plot. Eventually if you keep at it, it starts to come together. I know you do frequent author visits, too. I'd love to hear some of the tips you learned through these experiences.

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  7. Hi Adele, I just love the title of this post. What a wonderful post it is too, with loads of sensible advice. Yes we do need to prepare well for most things in life, and when the unexpected happens, a little laughter never goes astray. I wish I could get my head around writing YA fiction, as I feel that there can never be enough books in this genre. These young people are the future and they need wonderful books to read (such as yours) ;-) It sounds like you have a lot of fun at these book launches/workshops - hopefully I will be able to attend one of yours, one day.

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  8. Thanks, Jo'Anne. I agree whole-heartedly with your take on YA fiction. I think that's what makes this genre so fascinating to write for. The characters have such energy, with their entire future ahead of them, yet that impetuousness of youth tossed into the mix. (Plus I get to let out my inner adolescent for a while. LOL.) It truly is an exciting target audience.

    I hope you get to join me for a session one day, too. It will be fun! :)

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  9. Great post Adele. Having seen you in full flight, I can testify that the activities you do at your writing events engage the audience. And I've also seen the amount of work you put into those events to make them a success. You don't know how many young people you may have inspired to take up writing or to explore other creative pursuits. Good on you.

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    1. Thanks, Nola. I know you're well familiar with the work involved in prepping for a session, but I love your perspective on valuing that investment. It's such a privilege to consider we may get the opportunity to encourage someone in their creative journey.

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