I’m not a real author (well I am, but read on…)
I’ve given presentations at schools before, and it’s always a very rewarding experience that also entails a lot of planning, especially where significant travel is required (I’m not real big on travel and avoid it whenever I can). A few months ago I was invited to participate in a different kind of author visit—one that didn’t involve travel. At all. This “author visit” took place just last week.
My presentation was to a group of about 50 kids who are part of the Washington Virtual Academy (WAVA). My “visit” was the first of it’s kind as part of what they called the Visiting Author Virtual Adventure (VAVA). After a dry run a couple of days prior, to make sure that everything was working from a technical standpoint, I felt confident that being a virtual author would be a snap. Much easier than if I were playing the part of a real author. In fact I wouldn’t even have to shave and get a hair cut for this appearance.
On the day of the virtual visit when it was time to arrive at the school (log in to the virtual classroom), I strapped on my headset and microphone and settled in to my office chair- a very familiar place. I felt somewhat like a radio disc jockey about to go on the air for the first time.
After an introduction by one of the teachers (whom I never met in person), I began my presentation the same way that I do when I’m a real person at a brick and mortar school – by asking a question designed to get kids involved: “How many of you like opening presents?” Usually a room full of hands is enthusiastically extended skyward, but in the virtual world, there were no hands. Instead, a bunch of smiley faces appeared on the screen next to the names of the students. Relieved for the response, I proceeded into my presentation. “Good. Well, fishing is a lot like opening presents, because there’s always a surprise.”
I waded through my Powerpoint slide show which includes photos of wildlife, scenery, kids fishing, and of course fish. Without the occasional distractions that come when you assemble 50 youngsters in a room together, my delivery was smooth and confident. So confident was I that at one point I made a subtle attempt to interject some humor. Without having a real flesh and blood audience to giggle at my marginally funny statement, the awkward silence was deafening, even with headphones on. Luckily none of my virtual audience could see me squirm in my chair and I decided not to attempt any more clever acts for the remainder of the presentation. Tough virtual crowd 😉
At the end of 50 minutes my formal presentation had concluded and it was question and answer time. Assuming it would follow a similar display where a virtual hand would be raised so that I could call upon each child to type a question, suddenly the dialog box was flooded with rapid-fire questions, typed out at lightening speed. These are kids that are comfortable on a keyboard, and as I tried to read one question aloud, 5 more would appear and force me to lose my place. Frantically scrolling through the list I was relieved that one thing never changes: the nature of the questions being asked is the same everywhere, whether the kids are sitting right in front of me or if they appear as avatars on a screen. Familiar questions such as: “How old are you?” “Do you have a dog?” “You must be a really good fisherman- what’s the biggest fish you ever caught?” I was happy to answer all questions except that last one. I could have lied, since that’s what fishermen do. “Oh, look at the virtual digital time display – we’re all out of time, kids!”
All in all it was a great experience and the presentation was well-received by all in virtual attendance. At least that’s what the virtual teacher told me, via email, following the visit. I did receive a nice ‘Thank You’ card in the mail a few days later. It was made from real paper and had handwritten notes from real teachers inside. It was nice to hear from them that the presentation was very popular and had received great feedback from parents and students. And the virtual visit resulted in some real sales of real books, so luckily there are some real kids out there who may get hooked on fly fishing with Olive.
Thank you to all the real teachers, kids and families behind the virtual curtain at WAVA. It was a pleasure to meet you all.