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Five ways to avoid disaster during an author event

Steven Cole shares some excellent tips for authors and creators who want to ensure a smooth event

Audience: Professionals, Writers

Last updated: 21 May 2021

You will have disasters.

Perhaps not the most inspirational introduction of all time, but it’s true. I’ve been presenting book events to audiences since 2005 and I love it, but the nature of author appearances, school visits, writer events – whatever you want to call them – allows for many a slip twixt cup and lip. Particularly if your idea of the cup is entirely different from the organisers’, or if a heckling audience of young people supply the lip.

Of course, there are ways to fend off the flops. Here are five of mine:

Always have a Plan B

You turn up to a school with a talk and a PowerPoint presentation aimed at S5-6. Unfortunately, the school is expecting you to give a creative writing workshop for S1. This sort of mix-up occurs frustratingly often. Check your employer’s expectations and give thought to a back-up plan in case you’re dumped in doo-doo on the day.

Know your performance space

The event that works for small numbers in a classroom or library may be badly compromised in a school hall or theatre setting. The object is to communicate with your audience, whatever their size, so ensure your event is interactive. Don’t be afraid to colonise the space: walk about. Run about. Rush to the back of the room to ask or answer a question. If your audience are craning their necks to keep you in view, it makes sitting there less passive, draws them into your world.

Avoid the hard sell

Of course you’re longing to get your books into the hands of readers, but you’re not there solely to advertise your work. You are there to engage kids with words and reading and stories. Don’t make your masterpiece the sole focus of your event; chances are it won’t appeal to everyone. Widen your approach, make it fun and you’ll find they’re buying into you, not just your titles.

Don’t depend on technology

Your presentation’s on a memory stick. Cool! Except the school’s laptop is missing. Or the projector’s broken down. What are you going to do? Presentations can enhance your event, but be watchful they don’t become the event.

Find the golden thread

When preparing your talk, look for a passion, an interest, a thread that runs through your work – it might be relationships, the supernatural, historical events, whatever. Now consider how children of different ages might relate to that thread over the course of an hour’s event. If you can find a way to make the subject resonate for any age group as well as yourself, you’ll be able to perform confidently and convincingly to any audience!

One last thing: although you can ease the awkwardness of a dodgy event situation, I reckon the odd few are a help, not a hindrance. Not just because you can turn the experience into an amusing anecdote to share at parties, but because there is no better way to learn than from a massive cods-up, either your own or one that’s exploded around you. And there’s definitely no better way to boost your own confidence because, planning forward, whatever happens in the event, you’ll know you can cope. You survived, and you’re stronger for it. Next time, you’ll smash it out of the park!

Provided the event is taking place in a park, of course. (See point 2 above…!)