Ask an Agent: Loosening up Teens During Author Talks

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Question: We’ve been periodically skyping with authors (which is super fun!) BUT the teens are so shy that by the time they’ve warmed to the author…it’s nearly time to finish up and they’re bummed out when we have to say goodbye. Ideally, the skype would start with them asking lots of questions and maybe it wouldn’t feel so rushed at the end. I’ve tried warm up games, preparing questions for them, prompting them to ask one at a time round robin style, helping them prep questions ahead of time, chatting off-camera first, and offering to have our end be dark–did not fly as an option with them. They want to continue doing skype with authors, and I’m happy to keep arranging it–I’m just sad they don’t seem to enjoy it fully because of the scared/nervous/whatever energy that seems to kick in as soon as we start. How can I help them get ramped up sooner so they can get the most out of this opportunity that they clearly love?

Jenni (South San Francisco Public Library) says:

I wouldn’t worry about the kids being shy or being bummed when the Skype session is over. It’s good that they are enjoying it and want more sessions, and it sounds like you’ve done a lot to set them up for success. If things are slow starting, maybe you should ask the first couple of questions while the kids get used to the Skype session, then let them jump in when they’re ready.

 Michele (Westwood High School) says:

I have not skyped with authors before because our firewall prevents it but I have had authors visit with my teen book club. I am wondering a couple of things. How big is the group and do they know each other well? It sounds as if you have tried just about everything to prepare them and I can see your frustration. What I have found with teens sometimes is that the outside (facial expressions, enthusiasm, lots of questions) doesn’t always match up to the inside (jumping up and down and screaming in their head with excitement). Your own anxiety may be quelling some of the enthusiasm. If they don’t know each other well try some ice breakers, interview games, etc. before the actual interview.  I do give my students an assignment when we will be speaking to an author to write down three questions as they read the book and look closely at the cover. I talk a little about the process of getting a book published so that they understand that it doesn’t magically happen. At this point I step back and let one of the teens introduce everyone and begin with a question. There are some awkward silences at times but my experience is that the students will come forward if I am patient. That being said, I keep a couple of leading questions in my pocket for emergencies! Once I had a group show up so wound up with excitement I had them stand up and get the “shivers out” (stand up and shake all over). Funny I know but it helped everyone calm down and be ready to listen and share.

Wendy (Cullman High School) says:

I had this happen a couple of times, and then I changed the structure of our skype visits so we did most of the checking in — talking — eating BEFORE we dialed the author. I even “required” the teens to submit questions to participate and then have one of the braver kids read the questions anonymously at the start. Also, they always seem to want to know, “how did you get published?” and “what are some of your favorite authors and books?” so you can always ask those questions to get the kids to focus. But I found that just giving them time to goof around with other people in the room will make them looser and more interactive.

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