Entertaining in the ether – tips for virtual author visits

It was World Book Day this month, a time which is usually really busy for me, with two or three weeks of visits to schools, lots of preparation and driving about the country. Fun but exhausting! This year was a bit different. Visits were virtual, and I found schools were more interested in one or two short sessions than a day or half day so it was a lot quieter. But it was wonderful to still see the children and share my love of books and reading with them, and I still got to dress up in silly costumes, even if it was only from the waist up! Virtual visits can be challenging, so read on for some tips gleaned from what I’ve learned so far.

Meeting my book penpals at Woodlands Primary School last year
  • Preparation is vital so make sure you know which platform you are using (eg Zoom, Teams, Google Classroom etc), start and finish times and who will be there. Test out your internet connection in the space you will be in. Have a backup, eg a phone, just in case the worst happens!
  • A teacher should always be present for safety reasons, and if you ask them to send you the link it means they are in control of the session, with you as a visitor, and can ensure that everything is done to keep students safe.
  • Check your camera before you go into the meeting so you can see if you are adequately lit and what’s behind you. A simple swivel of your laptop can give you a more professional looking background by bypassing that teetering pile of toys that appears to be balanced on your left shoulder. Propping your laptop or device up with books to make it higher can help reduce the amount of chins. Remember you may be on a giant screen in the school hall so check for spinach etc between the teeth as well!
  • Have everything you need to hand and write a brief list of what you are going to do. It’s easy to go blank in the heat of the moment.
  • Keep it short and sweet. I find a quick chat, a reading, an interactive song or rhyme and some questions fill around half an hour and by then the children have probably had enough, although older children can cope with more.
  • Use props. Things like toys or puppets look great on the screen as you can play with perspective and the element of surprise. A hat is also appreciated!
  • The most challenging part for me is reading from a picture book while sharing the pictures and including myself in the frame. I don’t have any tips on this and usually end up craning around the book like Chad. However I think as long as you get some of the pictures in and deliver the reading with gusto your listeners will enjoy it!
  • If reading a picture book or illustrated book, credit the artist and talk about them and their work. Children are just as interested in that as they are in the words.
  • Leave plenty of time for questions. Everyone likes to have a turn. If you run out of time, offer to answer any outstanding ones by email.
  • Make sure you know where the exit button is so you’re not floundering at the end!
  • Enjoy yourself and your enthusiasm will shine through.

4 thoughts on “Entertaining in the ether – tips for virtual author visits

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