How to Speak to Students in Schools

I LOVE speaking to kids! I love speaking to women and writers, too, but events with kids always have the potential to include quotable funny conversations. Conversations I can use in women’s and writers’ events. Like the 3rd grader who told me I don’t look like the picture on the back of my book and the 4th grader who couldn’t believe I didn’t arrive at his school in a limo.

Can you see why I love kids?

So when I became an author of children’s mysteries, it made perfect sense to me that I should speak in schools. My first book came out in 2003, and in these past ten years, I’ve had the joy of speaking to over 22,000 kids!

Read on if you’d like to learn how to speak to students in schools…and collect your own quotable quotes.

  1. Find a need and fill it. Yea, I know we’ve all heard that about writing books, but it fits for speaking in schools, too. I started out by asking teachers and principals what they need from authors. Their answers surprised me. One educator said, “Authors who want to come to my school and read from their books are a dime a dozen.” I know that’s a cliche, but remember, I’m quoting here. πŸ™‚ And many others agreed. What they need is an author who will teach something. If your book is about fire safety, teach fire safety. If it’s about turtles, teach about turtles. But my Bitsy books are about a 12-year-old girl who goes to cool islands and solves mysteries. Did that mean I had to teach about solving mysteries? Nope! Instead, I put together a high energy, interactive class on writing, and the teachers were thrilled!
  2. Be kid-friendly. That means you’ll most likely need to loosen up a little and get away from the professional speaker mentality.
  3. Create an intimate environment. Whatever you teach, it must be interesting to kids. Writing in general isn’t interesting for a lot of students. But guessing games, puzzle-solving, and funny demonstrations are. When I told one teacher my standard delivery of my Writing is Fun! workshop takes 45-60 minutes, she said her students would lose interest after about 20 minutes. I assured her they’d be fine. They were.
  4. Use your books as examples. Regardless of what you’re teaching, use your book as THE resource. Pick it up, point to it. Read short pieces from it. (But don’t overdo it.)
  5. Have large posters made of your book covers. Kinko’s and Staples can take the large files of your book covers and create foam-backed signs that you can set up on easels, keeping your book in front of the students. When I was making mine, I was told they couldn’t use JPG files, so check with your book publisher about getting large TIF files suitable for signs.
  6. Make book sales simple. Teachers are overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated. Asking them to tally book orders ahead of time would add to their workload. That’s not a good move if you want to be asked back again. Instead, give your order forms to the teacher and ask him or her to simply give them out, collect orders and money from the students, and put everything in a large envelope. I then take a lot of books, more than I’ll probably need. Before I leave, I sign and personalize them.
  7. Offer commission on book sales. When the school pays my full requested fee for speaking, I offer a 10% commission back to the school. That way the school personnel are more likely to promote your books.

So there it is, seven steps to speaking to students in schools. Do a good job, and it can not only add to your speaking opportunities, book sales, and bottom line, but it can give you a good laugh from quotable quotes.

Posted in categories: Business of Writing | Uncategorized | Writing for Children | Writing Instruction

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  • kimberly long

    I bet it is fun to speak to kids and I know you can hold their attention if anyone can! I like the idea and believe it will also work for marketing our books, to find the need and then ask how we can fill it with our resources. Thank you!

    • You’re very welcome, Kimberly. It’s one of my favorite things to do!

  • Marie C. Senter

    This list is solid gold…thank you dear friend. Where you were is 2003, I am in 2013. TRESTLE OVER NO NAME CREEK is aimed at home shoolers, public schools, and
    libraries (everywhere—even Thailand!) You are soooo right about making
    presentations ‘age and stage’ appropriate…do you have the above 7 tips in print
    form?????? please. Prayers and a hug Marie Senter

    • This would definitely be right up your alley, Marie! And you can copy the list by highlighting it and copying, then pasting it into a Word doc. If you can’t do that, just grab a teen at church. I can promise you, he or she will know how. πŸ™‚

  • Nan Jones

    Vonda, I’m thrilled that you shared your advice about speaking in schools. That thought runs through my head from time to time because I absolutely adore kids. I worked in the school system for 12 years and I know that I know many children see writing as a chore rather than an adventure in art (Painting with words). I DO believe I’ll be praying on this a little more **grin** Thanks.

    • Glad to see you found it helpful, Nan. I’ve loved doing it all these years, and I bet you would, too!

  • Marcia Gaddis

    Thanks Vonda! I have just been asked to speak at a Girl Scout event in February and plan to implement your ideas. Blessings to you, Marcia

    • Marcia, I’m so excited for you! I love speaking to Girl Scouts, too. I know they’ll love you. πŸ™‚

  • Over 50 years ago, a writer came to our elementary class. She was an inspiration to this dunce who sat in the back of the class.
    I know you are an author who moves little hearts to adventure out into a writer’s world too.
    Teach on!

    • We never know what children are going through, do we? What a joy it is for me to hear of kids who were encouraged by my classes.

  • Thanks, V! What a blessing to speak to kids!

  • Great advice, Vonda! Students are usually excited to have a change in their routine. I bet you’re a favorite with them!

    • Well, I try to be, and they sure seem to like it! I’ll often ask them what subject they’re missing because of my visit. I feel really bad when they say recess. πŸ™

  • Janelle Valido Woodyard

    Thanks for the posting. This is an area in which I have dabbled. Speaking in schools has been a lot of fun for me.