Richa Jha tells us about the session by Paro Anand on April 7, 2016.
In an engaging and entertaining session at the Goethe Institute Library, New Delhi, author Paro Anand, a great favourite with schools and literary festivals in India and internationally, showed us exactly why schools love to have her talk to students.
And while, alas, we cannot reproduce the magic or fun of her enactments, here are some of the useful points she discussed.
It is crucial to do school sessions, Paro emphasized. It is not enough to publish a book and hope it will sell. Especially in the case of children’s books, the author has to engage with prospective readers by being out and about with your books at sessions at schools or at literary festivals.
A successful session requires a lot of planning and work. These are some of Paro’s tips for preparing for a session.
The first stage in planning is to find out about the audience, especially in a school session. At a literary festival, you can expect the audience to be more mixed, and perhaps also include adults.
• Find out about your audience beforehand—age group and level of fluency in the language of the book. And choose the story or book accordingly.
• Inform the school beforehand if you want the students placed in a certain way—for example, in a semicircle at the same level, rather than a proscenium arrangement where there is automatically greater distance between the speaker and the listener.
• See if a collar mike can be arranged. Your hands are then free during the presentation. Also, if you need any other equipment, make sure you inform the school in advance.
• The sessions are more enriching for the children if they have read the story/book before the interaction with the author. Ask the school if that might be possible.
The second stage in planning is to decide what you are going to be doing. There are several things you need to keep in mind when planning the session:
• Age group of the students: You need to pick the book you are presenting depending on the age group of the students. The kind of presentation depends on the audience. Generally speaking, it needs to be more animated for a younger group and quieter for older students.
• Not all stories can be read out. If your book is one that does not lend itself to being read out, you can try a character-focussed approach. Engage the audience by talking (or asking) about the characters and use that to drive session forward.
• Never tell the entire story. Instead, get the audience under the skin of the character and have them hankering for more. You are creating readers; you want them to step out and buy the book.
• Picture books can be read out from beginning to end in an interesting way.
• Decide if you want to use props. If you are using props, keep them as simple as possible, objects from our everyday life. Since you want the teachers to be able to conduct a similar session with your book in the years to come, this will make it less intimidating for them to take it forward with their classes later.
As with any other performance, Paro emphasizes the importance of preparation and rehearsal.
• Rehearse thoroughly.
• Read the text several times before the session. Knowing the text means that you do not have to read every word from the book, which gives you the freedom to focus on movements, voice modulations and eye contact with the audience.
• However, your presentation should look spontaneous, not rehearsed.
• Time yourself.
• Have a designated reading copy of your book. Select the passages carefully—and leave out sentences and paragraphs that would not work when reading aloud. Mark the text in your reading copy so that you don’t have to fumble for the passages during the session.
At the start of the session:
• As your audience files in, chat with them informally about their interests, reading habits, books they like and so on. Get a sense of their language comprehension levels. And be ready to make adjustments in your presentation accordingly.
• Make the audience sit in the way you want them to sit, and in such a manner that allows you to ‘get down and dirty’ with them; it’ll keep them engaged and lively.
During the session:
• Be prepared to improvise and think on your feet.
• Make good use of voice modulation, pauses and silence to keep the audience engaged.
• Try variations in tone and modulation to keep the audience tuned in. Speaking in the same pitch can make you lose their attention.
• If the students get fidgety, use your voice to draw them back in – not by getting louder, but by lowering your voice and going softer and softer until they HAVE to become quiet to listen to you.
• Make use of the physical space available to you: move about, go close to the audience, be free with your hands and body movements.
• Draw the audience in by making them a part of the presentation. For example, if the story is set in a jungle, divide the audience into groups and make each group make the sounds of one animal. With the different groups making different animal sounds, the classroom can be converted into a jungle.
• Keep throwing questions at the audience.
• Use a few words from local languages to draw your audience in –eg., ‘shaadi jewellery’ instead of ‘wedding jewellery’.
• Be authentic, not fake. The more you believe in what you’ll be presenting, the more authentic you will be.
• There is often disruptive child in the group. You need to deal with this. Don’t let him/her distract you. Try to tune him out. Or pin him with your stare. Or block him out by turning your back at him.
Paro believes that it is important for authors to charge for school sessions. (One can always make an exception for schools where one believes that there may be a financial constraint.) For authors, writing is their profession and it is important that their time and work is taken seriously.
You should charge even for Skype sessions. Paro charges 5K per hour. Or, the school needs to buy 150 to 200 copies of her books. Be upfront and firm and transparent about your charges; do not negotiate. For daylong workshops or those over a longer duration, propose a package deal.
‘Writing is your profession, and it is out of respect for literature that you’re charging. Stop apologizing about it,’ she says.