Topics For Speaking At Schools

Emblazon, tweens, the Weekends is a monthly feature hosted on Emblazon. This is an opportunity for writers and readers to promote tween literature, that age bracket squashed between middle grade and young adult. You can review a great tween book, post about writing for kids, connect with others who love the genre, support and encourage one another, relate news, share links, or just about anything else tween related.” I hope you’ll join us. 

Now that the school year has begun, it’s a good time to discuss topics for school visits.

Every speaker has a mouth; 
An arrangement rather neat.  
Sometimes it’s filled with wisdom.
  Sometimes it’s filled with feet.

—   Robert Orben

If you’ve never done an author visit at a school, library, or bookstore, it can seem a bit scary.


Ma Cob gets scared when speaking in public.

Being prepared helps boost your confidence.

Remember the old cartoon Felix the Cat? Whenever he got in a fix, he’d reach right into his bag of tricks!

A bag of tricks is good for authors to have on hand for public speaking, no matter what age you’re addressing. Basically, props are part of your bag of tricks, whether large or small. You can use them as an ice breaker or throughout your presentation.

For ideas on propshere’s my post with suggestions.

When you schedule a visit, be sure to ask how much time you’ll have and what ages you’re dealing with. If you’re going to talk about writing in addition to reading excerpts of your book and sharing a little about your personal journey, ask if there’s a certain topic they want you to cover, such as plot, figurative language, the importance of reading, etc. That will help you prepare ahead of time. Usually I’m free to discuss whatever I want, though.

So, what should you talk about?

    • Introduce yourself. Explain what genres you write and what ages you write for. If you use the word “genre,” ask the kids if they know what it means. 

    • Share a little about your writing journey.

    • If you did a lot of research, explain how you researched your book.

    • Engage your audience by asking questions. Before I read my short story “Cyclops Clyde,” I ask if anyone has had their computer do weird things. There’s always a show of hands. Then I explain how my computer does so many strange things, I think it’s haunted, so one day I wrote about a monster that lives in it. After I read the story (with tons of drama and animation), I tell them they can write their own computer monster story.

  • Cyclops Clyde, Trio of Haunting Tales, Lynn Kelley Author, BBH McChiller, Monster Moon Mysteries

    Cyclops Clyde, the one-eyed monster that haunts my computer!

If you have enough time, you can have fun engaging your audience with questions such as, “What are you afraid of?” or ask them about anything that ties in with your theme or book.

Be sure you have lots of extras in your bag of tricks to use as backup material in case you’re there longer than planned.  

    • If your book is about animals, have a list of interesting and amazing animal facts. If you wrote a historical piece, have extra trivia about that time period handy to share. You can ask the kids if they think they would have liked to have lived back then. If you write sci-fi, you can come up with all kinds of cool questions to engage your audience.

    • Promote literacy. Encourage reading and writing. I always tell them, “If you want to become a writer, you need to read as much as possible.” Stress how important it is to practice to become a better reader and writer. “Athletes work out for hours every day to perfect their skills. Writers must do the same, and reading is part of writing.”  Teachers love it when you talk about how important it is to revise. Jaws drop when I tell the kids some of my books were revised 50 times. 

Basically, I explain no matter what their career choice is, reading and writing well will help them accomplish their goals.

Kids have a misconception that authors are rich. Be prepared for the question, “How much money do you make?” Unfortunately, I have to break the news to them that it’s difficult to make a living as a writer but that the market is better for nonfiction than fiction. (I always ask if they know the difference.) It’s important for people to know that authors write because they love to write, not because they plan to get rich. 

If you’re interested in tips on reading aloud at school visits, check out my post here.

More great tips on doing an author visit can be found on Heather Kelly’s post about children’s writer Jackie Davies and the wonderful presentation she does using props, reading short, entertaining excerpts, and interacting with kids.

Do you enjoy speaking in public? Or are you like me and likely to have a panic attack? Do you think it would be easier to speak to an audience of kids or adults? If you have any tips to add, please do!

Be sure to read the other Tween the Weekends posts about tweens at Emblazon and sign up to join us next month if you’re interested.

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38 Responses to Topics For Speaking At Schools

  1. Diana Beebe says:

    Great advice, Lynn! I always avoided public speaking, but I taught at a tiny college for three years, which forced me to get over that fear. I still don’t like it much though. One of these days, I’d like to share my middle grade stories with kids–it sounds like a fun adventure.

    • Lynn Kelley says:

      Diana, I guess teaching a college class would do the trick, huh? Good going! I feel the same way you do, intimidated speaking in front of people. Kids are tons of fun to talk to!

  2. What a fun post with such great information, Lynn. Quite a bit of work, too. Thanks so much for all the ideas on public speaking, and for the great video and pics. It must be hilarious fun at your house.

    • Lynn Kelley says:

      Thank you, Cordelia. I revamped an old post, and it was still quite a bit of work. The text kept changing sizes on me! Yes, there are lots of hilarious moments at my house and at the grandkids’ when I watch them. My life is a three-ring circus. Or a sitcom. Maybe both!

  3. OMG – this post couldn’t have come at a better time! Thanks for all your tips and sharing your author presentation information, Lynn! You rock. I’m creating an author presentation structure, and this will help immensily! Cheers!

  4. Super post, Lynn. I haven’t done a ton author visits, but I usually have a few each school year. These are great ideas and reminders!

    • Lynn Kelley says:

      Thanks, Michelle. You shared some great tips with us Emblazoners in that one thread. Wish I’d have thought to include your tips in this post, but I’m working on half a brain this week. I’m going to have to figure out how to do Skype visits since I can’t sneak two babies into my bag of tricks. Bet the school kids would love them, though! It will be tricky with timing Skype visits to take place while the little ones sleep, but if things blow up, it will make for a good blog post!

  5. Wonderful suggestions. I’ve only done a handful of visits, but plan on more come January. I’ve found that even if you can’t book a school-wide assembly, many junior highs have a “prep time” when kids without detentions can do fun activities at the school. So, during “prep times” I’ve done an author visit in the libraries. It’s been fun.

    • Lynn Kelley says:

      Lois – Yikers! I seriously am prone to panic attacks and I only do classroom visits. My goal is to overcome my fear of public speaking, though, so I can do school assemblies someday. I did do a school assembly with my two Monster Moon coauthors one time, but I only said a few words. I was pretty jazzed that I pulled that off! 🙂

  6. Alan Tucker says:

    What a great post, Lynn! I especially love the Robert Orben quote at the beginning. Too often I find mine filled with feet 😉 I plan to embark on more school visits in the coming year and this will be a tremendous help, thank you!

    • Lynn Kelley says:

      Alan – Foot in the mouth, yep, guilty here, too. That’s why I added the quote! I don’t know what’s worse, putting my foot in my mouth or being scared stiff and no words come out! Glad these tips will be helpful to you.

  7. Great tips here! Public speaking doesn’t bother me at all, provided I know the topic (as you noted first – that’s key!). Cocktail parties – now that’s scary! I’d rather speak in front of a group of 100 customers any day!

    • Lynn Kelley says:

      Jennette – I’m so impressed you’re comfortable speaking in front of 100 customers! Even knowing what you’re talking about, it’s still intimidating to me! I don’t go to many cocktail parties, but a couple of cocktails and I’m dancing on a table with a lampshade on my head, so I’m okay with cocktail parties. JK! Haha! Just had to throw that out there!

  8. Hahaha. Ma Cob is just so WITH IT! *wink*

    I filed these tips in a folder. That’s just the best post I’ve seen in a while. (My hands get all sweaty and my heart starts going *thumpety* *bumpety*) So I need this. If I ever get published that is.

    P.S. Felix is the coolest cat around.

    • Lynn Kelley says:

      Robyn – You’re the coolest peep ever! Thanks for the compliments on Ma Cob. I’ll pass it on to her and she’ll do a happy dance or two!

      There is no “if” you ever get published. Stop that. It’s “when” you get published, and you’ll be an awesome speaker because everything you do is awesome, especially your talent for connecting with people. Mwah!

  9. Lisa Orchard says:

    Great post! Just in time for the new school year! Thanks for sharing all of your great ideas, Lynn. 🙂

  10. Great tips! I’ve never spoken at a school before, but if I do, I know where to come for advice. And speaking isn’t really my thing.

    • Lynn Kelley says:

      Alex – Speaking isn’t my strong point either. I’m way more comfortable doing school visits with one of my coauthors. That way if I get tongue tied, they can cover for me!

      I think you’d do great speaking about your books and your characters and about your writing journey. I bet you’d engage boys, and they’d bet to hear more!

  11. Awesome post, Lynn! I blush when I speak in public–ugh. But one of the best ways to alleviate that happening is to be as prepared as possible and you’ve got great tips here. 🙂

    • Lynn Kelley says:

      Coleen – You and I are a lot alike. Being prepared is definitely a huge help. But I’m thinking I should have a back up plan and have a paper sack handy to pull over my head (with eye holes) if I get stage fright. 🙂

  12. Lia London says:

    What a fun speaker you must be! I’m actually pretty fearless about getting up in front of a crowd, but it sounds like you have a lot more creativity going here. LOVE that you mention promoting literacy! That’s a biggie, and what a great forum to do so.

    • Lynn Kelley says:

      Lia – Yay for being fearless! Nope, I ain’t got nothin’ on you. I’m not comfortable speaking in front of an audience, but I love kids and I love to interact with them, so I’ve got to be prepared and know what to say. And promoting literacy is a biggie in my book, too!

  13. Great tips and I’ll bet you are an incredible speaker, Lynn! Me, I hate to talk in front of people…no matter their age. :}

    • Lynn Kelley says:

      Thanks, Teresa, but actually I’m a terrible speaker. That’s why I have to have a few props and try to prepare ahead of time. I’m an introvert, but I love kids, and they never fail to impress me or crack me up (or both) when I visit classrooms.

  14. Thank you all for your comments. I haven’t had time to reply to them today, caring for the babies all day and then needed to proofread a book file, so I’ll get back to your comments tomorrow and then stop in at your sites. You’re all awesome, and I truly appreciate you stopping by and commenting. Have a good night, peeps!

  15. Ah, Lynn. I’m always behind these days. That will change soon, hopefully… But I love your tips here – I can tell you’d be a natural in front of the kids! The little bit I’ve done has been scary as hell… I’m probably more comfortable in front of adults. I always feel kids have a greater ability to see right through you and spot your weakness. Maybe that’s an illusion? Anyway, hope all is well with you and the grandkids – I haven’t been on Facebook at all this fortnight, but you’re in my thoughts! xo

    • Lynn Kelley says:

      Alarna – So nice to see you here! I can so relate to how you feel with being so behind. I hope we both get a handle on things soon! I think adults are way too intimidating, but you’re right about how some kids can see right through us. I’m okay with them spotting my goofiness right off the bat. And I always prove them right, too!

  16. Haven’t done a presentation on writing to kids yet, but these tips will come in handy. Much appreciated!

    • Lynn Kelley says:

      Joy – Thanks so much for stopping by for TTW! You’ve got so much writing experience, kids will love it when you do a presentation. Let us know how it goes when you get your feet wet!

  17. Yvette Carol says:

    Darling, you’re amazing still managing to crank out blog posts when you’re sooo busy! Good on you. 🙂
    I have another thing you could talk about with kids. My youngest son has been going on and on about the new ipads they have in their classroom. But he’s not excited about reading stories on them, as much as he’s excited about writing stories on them! Apparently they’ve got some sort of comp. going on in his class to write stories and doodle pictures or cut & paste pictures to illustrate them, and the best ones will get printed and packaged into books. Isn’t that a great idea? I’m sure there’s a lot of this sort of groundswell of interest too these days.
    You can ask that one for me, I don’t envisage myself doing anything in public with my books at all – I think I’ve mentioned my severe fear of public speaking before!! Eeps. You’re so brave!

    • Lynn Kelley says:

      Yvette – Thanks! You’re too kind. I revamped a post from 2011! I made a commitment to the Emblazon group to take part in the TTW every month. I’m glad I did because it’s so worthwhile.

      Thanks for sharing about your son’s classroom. That’s so interesting that he doesn’t like to read stories on the iPad. I wonder if he’d be more open to audio books on it? Great idea to have a competition and publish the winners. Smart teachers to think of something like that. It won’t surprise me if your son wins, and I know you’ll be soooooooo proud of him!

      I think it’s fantastic that he loves writing stories on it and adding art work. How cool is that? And

      • Lynn Kelley says:

        Wow, I lost the end of my comment! What I said was, And it wouldn’t surprise me if your son won, and I know you’ll be sooooooo proud of him!

        • Yvette Carol says:

          I agree. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion already that we have another writer in the family, now you mention it. If he can write a story anything like the way he can talk, he’s going to be pumping out more books a year than I ever could. Ha ha.
          Here’s an idea: why don’t you run a blog post comp. for us to share our kids’ stories. Nat’s got some pearlers in among his!

          • If he’s good at telling stories, he’ll definitely be awesome at writing them. And he knows where to go for a good critique and writing advice!

            I love your idea for sharing our kids’ stories. A competition? That would be hard to judge. I should mention this idea to the Emblazoners and get them in on this. Great idea, Yvette!

  18. Suzanne Warr says:

    What I’d like to take in my bag of tricks would be a few chickens–perfect for my ninja chickens book, don’t you think? But, I’m guessing I could pull that off about as easily as your bringing babies. 😀 Still, it would give the kids something fun to write about!

    Thanks for the tips, and for stopping by the blog!

    • Suzanne – Thanks for stopping by and commenting. When you mentioned pulling chickens out of your bag of tricks, I visualized those rubber chickens found in joke shops! I don’t know if those would make a good prop for your book, but I’m sure they’d be a big hit with the kids!

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