These things seem to come in waves. I did a little tour last fall (for 9:09 – maybe three weeks) which—along with a number of in-store signings—included half a dozen school and library type events, so I developed a basic presentation that would work for most of them with a few tweaks.
But then we went out on a larger/longer tour this spring which—as anchor points between in-store events—included things like doing the opening keynote at the awesome Colorado Teen Lit Con, along with some larger school events and a few writing classes, etc.
And a couple of months before we left, I looked at the itinerary, gulped, and said to myself, Holy crap, you’re gonna need some all-new programs… maybe several of them!
This can feel daunting as your brain spins around the questions of: Where do I start, what do I do, and how do I do it…??? However, as with drafting almost any how-to nonfiction piece, it can help to begin with a structure.
And not to get all instructor-geeky on you, but one of the best ways to develop a new program is to use the tools of the Standardized Approach to Training: A.D.D.I.E. (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation.)
Don’t shudder and run away. Those are just fancy words describing a common-sense way to decide what to do, how to do it, and how to determine if it’s working. As follows…
Analysis: This initial step is where you determine what sort of presentation you’re going to build and give, based on the needs of your attendees. (Which could be school students, bookstore customers, conference attendees, workshop clients, etc.) These each have different needs. School presentations should be educational and entertaining. Bookstores have a fairly general audience with an obvious bias toward reading. People attending workshops are writing-centered and typically place a higher focus on actionable information and advice than entertainment. (Not that it needs to be bone dry… humor is almost always welcome at the right times.)
Design: Decide on an overall structure and make an outline for your presentation. (Examples: maybe a PowerPoint with lecture for conferences; “Draw and talk” for those of you who both illustrate and write; Storytelling with props for story time type events; a specific how-to lesson with guided exercises for workshops; etc.)
Development: Take your outline and fill in all the details. In other words, add meat to the skeleton by actually building the presentation you outlined above. Just like writing a story, don’t expect to get it perfect the first time. It’s an iterative process… write/revise/write/revise until it feels smooth and tight. (Leaving some room for on-the-fly improvisation, if that’s your vibe.)
Implementation: This is (theoretically) simple: you give the presentation you designed and built. But for many this is the hardest part—getting up in front of a live audience and presenting your material in a way that comes off as smooth and professional, yet personable and entertaining. Everyone is different and there are whole books on dealing with public speaking so we’re not doing a deep dive here, but there is one tactic that seems universally helpful: practice. I’m fine speaking to customers in a bookstore or presenting to kids, but frankly, doing a more formal presentation to a room full of writers or educators can make me a little nervous. What helps me is going somewhere quiet and giving the presentation—aloud—multiple times, well in advance of the event.
Evaluation: How did it go? Any slow spots where the audience seemed bored or antsy? Did the presentation run long… or did you run out of material halfway through? Any pertinent points you failed to make? This is where we close the loop back to ‘Analysis’ and make any possible improvements after the fact. Use your own assessment, but also touch base with a friend or acquaintance who attended, if possible. Sometimes presenters have a form for receiving feedback from attendees, depending on the nature of the event. Whatever the feedback, roll the actionable parts of it back into the ADDIE loop and make the next version even stronger. (But don’t over-think this. Give a few presentations and you’ll start organically making changes/improvements to the material without even thinking about it.)
Some tips from the trenches:
Pay attention to overall time during the dry runs. If you have 60 minutes to present, don’t have a presentation that takes you 60 minutes to get through. You’ll almost certainly lose a few minutes to admin stuff and introductions at the start and other things will crop up, and you’ll either end up rushing to finish it or you’ll have to end in the middle of a section—both less-than-optimum. Instead, plan accordingly and make adjustments as you get close so you end on time. (Sort of like a “two-minute drill,” if your closing segment takes five minutes, segue into it six or seven minutes before the end time so you can stick the landing without zipping through the most important parts.)
If you’re planning on a Q&A section, budget adequate space for it. ‘Adult Education’ is primarily about giving your attendees actionable information (i.e. stuff they can use) as opposed to entertainment or broadly educational content. In longer workshops I’ll often build-in a Q&A break after each section, and sometimes almost half of the overall class can be Q&A.
Get to know your specific audience. I’ll usually do a quick show-of-hands assessment to find out who’s there, their experience level, and what they really want to know. Then you can adjust your presentation accordingly and put a little more focus on their specific needs.
Remember why you’re there. You’re there to give your audience something of value, whether that’s motivating kiddos to read, aiding emerging writers in navigating the publishing industry, or helping workshop clients construct tight dialog. It’s about them, not you. To that end…
Skip the long self-intro. They probably know who you are and why you’re there—no need for the whole ego-boosting CV. A quick “My name is X and I’ve done Y” should suffice. (Or better yet, just jump right in with some interesting/useful information and hook them from the word “go”.)
Try to take video (or at least an audio recording on your phone) of your early presentations or classes and review them with a critical eye. I did, and learned that once I’m wound up and going, I can start talking too fast if I’m not careful. It’s amazing what we can learn by listening after the fact when we’re not caught up in the moment.
Have a “contact” page onscreen at the end of your presentation where appropriate, for any follow-up and/or feedback.
Always thank your host (festival or bookstore or school or conference or library, etc.). It’s a lot of work to put on whatever event you were part of, and people appreciate being appreciated. Plus, one of the best ways to get further offers to present is positive word-of-mouth from previous hosts.
This is where I write about things that are of interest to me and which I think may be of interest to you. I’m assuming most of you are here due to an interest in reading, writing, editing, publishing, etc., so that’s the primary focus.