By Kris Maze
The writing life involves a lot of pushing to accomplish our goals, but it shouldn’t be the only focus. Finish the manuscript. Increase our word counts. Edit the pages. And sell more books. But what we do after those push moments is just as important to the health and well-being of a writer as well.
Paying attention to how we feel after completing deadlines, sending off in as-good-as-we-can-get-it condition manuscripts, and finishing author events we spent days, weeks, or months of planning-hours on can benefit an author over the long term of their writing career.
I recently finished a milestone event by speaking about becoming a writer at two language conferences. This is a follow up on my previous post at Writers in the Storm Blog on taking risks found HERE.
There were many opportunities for reflection and each one provided me with a different insight as to how I grew as a writer. Here are my experiences and what I learned from them. Feel free to use the checklist I provide at the end of this post for guiding your own reflection after completing a major accomplishment.
Last weekend was the culmination of months of preparation for two speaking engagements at language conferences in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. One was hosted at the University of Oregon, in Eugene, OR and the other was in a town north of Seattle, held at Mt. Vernon High School. I was scheduled to present two topics for language teachers to encourage them to play more with their linguistic nature and to follow their creative passions in my sessions about Storyteller Superpowers.
My experience at each conference went well, but with minor issues that I used to iterate my next presentation. Careful planning did pay off, and I’ll share how I prepared. As we may know, whenever we try something new, our plans can’t avert all trouble, just because that is the nature of life. Follow along with how my plans unfolded with laughable moments, but also how I overcame a few challenges.
Logistics and travel were an important part of the planning as the two locations were several hours apart and involved navigating through two congested metropolitan areas. Technology was also a critical consideration, as it was necessary to practice the technology and make sure it worked. I wanted to ensure that my audience had adequate participation and input in my presentation as well.
As mentioned, the two speaking engagements were a far distance apart for car travel. I didn’t anticipate the travel issues of conferences because I didn’t expect both conference organizers to accept my proposals (another lesson learned – don’t underestimate your message). As luck would have it, my presentation fit in well with both conference agendas, and I now was figuring out driving times and hotel stays in two states during one weekend. The problems were minimal, and I got hotels close to the venues to help me stress less about other travel troubles on the day of the presentations.
Even the best plans can have hiccups and after the first presentation, a random trip to a train station turned restaurant made a laughable moment. My writing team and I decided to try a renovated restaurant in the southern part of Oregon, since we would rarely go that direction. The restaurant gave out a free T-shirt as a part of a promotion, adding to the draw to visit the old train station. But we glanced at the travel app and miscalculated how far it really was, accidentally messed up our drive time, and added an additional three hours to an already 5 to 7 hour drive north.
After realizing that my presentation at the second conference was on Sunday, we adjusted and stayed at a friend’s house at the halfway point. Breaking up the travel meant participating less in the conference and missing out on a visit to a friend, but we still presented and didn’t stress about driving nine hours in the process. That free T-shirt from the restaurant will remain a symbol of warning to strongly consider the schedule before taking a side trip on an already packed itinerary. And it will remind me to enjoy the trip, being mindful that side trips are part of the adventure.
Preparing for venues for which I had little information about their audio-visual set ups, guessing about how my presentation would connect with their system, was a little stressful. I had to be ready to share my message with teachers who attended the conference for new content and inspirational messages. I didn’t want the experience to be a complete letdown if my visual slide show couldn’t be presented. Winging it without slides wouldn’t be a good way to present my material and would be a nightmare as a presenter.
As a pretrial of my presentation, I wanted to make sure my audience could see the visuals, hear me as the speaker, and have adequate ways to participate. To do this, I needed access to my slides in multiple ways (in the cloud, downloaded to my laptop, available to cast to a screen, etc), taking into consideration the unknowns of the conference venues. I also played with sound and video recording options. I tried out my presentation to a few willing language enthusiasts to see how they liked the interactive aspects of my talk.
Having access to my slides was the most crucial. I wanted to figure out how to connect them with or without the internet. There was the preferred way, using a direct connection, but that required having the right ports and adaptors. So, I collected all the little dongles: DVI, mini DVI, HDMI, USB C, VGA, and all the possible wires for charging and data transfer that I could find and hoped for the best.
In a delightfully sunny room with glass walls, inviting chairs, and a large screen just off the main convention area, I encountered a second slight hiccup. The technology in the room was a singular port hardwired into the walls. Fortunately, I had packed the just-right dongle as a precaution, the last one tossed into the bag as an afterthought, and it proved to be a lifesaver.
The lesson learned here is the importance of arriving with multiple methods to connect to unfamiliar systems at your venue. Room changes and technological glitches can catch you off guard, and having backup plans in place will prevent these obstacles from sabotaging your presentation.
This presentation was held in a modern classroom and the teacher’s set up in this room had a port with a dozen options and multiple remotes. In this situation, I brainstormed with other presenters using the same room. We found the right method that worked for each of us.
At the beginning of the presentation, I knew that I wanted to find out who my audience was. This enabled me to tailor the talk to the audience by figuring out what they expect from the experience at the beginning of your presentation. I did this with a simple thumbs up (yes answer) or thumbs down (no answer) participation game.
This was an alternative to other technology options which would require downloads, distractions from my content to get into a program, or paid survey options that didn’t fit my budget. It was a playful option that was low-tech and low stress. And it was surprising to see how everyone participated.
I asked a series of progressive questions about the participant’s knowledge base with my topic while I watched their yes and no answers. As I watched I took mental note to see which areas of my talk I could embellish or go over more quickly due to what the audience would need most. Here are some questions I used:
You can use this game format to engage your audience in longer, content-thick parts of your presentation also. In another section about genres and which tropes are most common, I had participants thumbs up their favorite genres. After, we stopped and talked to someone nearby about the title of a book they recently enjoyed and recommended. This helped with the pacing of the presentation and allowed participants some input from each other.
Getting feedback is crucial for you if you want to understand how well your presentation connected with the audience. It's like having a roadmap to fine-tune your speaking engagements.
Consider this survey as a guide for future presentations. It helps you gauge how effective your presentation was in engaging your audience. The survey I used below employs straightforward rating scales and easy-to-answer questions, and it provides space for people to share what they liked and where they think you could improve.
This feedback doesn't just reflect your performance on the day, it also reveals how your presentation continues to inspire people afterward. It gives your audience a chance to suggest topics or changes for future talks. Getting feedback can help you stay on track and continually improve your craft.
At my presentations, I wanted a foolproof way to see what worked, something I could collect as participants left and didn’t depend on various levels of technology. I chose to have a paper copy which I provided as a sample below. There are pros and cons to using a paper version versus a digital feedback option, but regardless of which works best for you, the feedback is valuable.
Providing a paper copy of surveys allows for fast, immediate feedback with fewer obstacles for participants. A secondary digital option can be useful for those who prefer to provide feedback later, but it may be forgotten, and you might not get the participant’s insights. Immediate feedback, capturing the audience's most applicable thoughts and feelings, enables authors to make quick adjustments for even more engaging future presentations.
For example, consider this survey as a guide to build your own to help you gauge how effective your presentation was in engaging your audience. The survey employs straightforward rating scales and easy-to-answer questions, and it provides space for people to share what they liked and where they think you could improve.
Introduction: Thank you for participating in our presentation on the intersection of language teaching and young adult novel writing. Your feedback is essential in helping us improve our offerings and tailor our support to your needs. Please take a few minutes to complete this survey.
5.On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate the program's effectiveness in helping you understand the overlaps between language teaching and young adult novel writing?
_ 5 (Very Effective) 4 3 ___2 1 (Not Effective)
6.Which aspects of the program did you find most valuable in improving your ability to become a young adult novel writer? (Select all that apply)
Insights into controlled language use as it relates to writing fiction
Crafting engaging content
Cultural relevance and diversity in storytelling
Effective communication techniques as they relate to writing fiction
Understanding the publication process
Language acquisition and its impact on writing
Other (please specify):
7. How do you plan to apply the knowledge and skills gained from this program to your writing endeavors? (Select all that apply)
Please share any additional comments or feedback about the program, including suggestions for improvement or topics you would like to explore further.
9. Have you been inspired to start or continue working on a young adult novel or creative writing project after participating in this session?
Thank you for participating in our exit survey! Your input is greatly appreciated and will help us enhance our programs for language teachers interested in becoming young adult novel writers.
And now time to reflect on your own achievements. Follow these suggestions to find out what worked and what you want to improve.
1. Celebrate Your Achievement ☑
2. Self-Assessment ☑
3. Feedback Gathering ☑
4. Lessons Learned ☑
5. Set New Goals ☑
6. Improve Your Process ☑
7. Seek Inspiration ☑
8. Renew Your Motivation ☑
These checkboxes provide a visual guide for tracking your progress as you reflect on your writing milestone.
I hope you found my reflections on my experiences as a newbie presenter insightful. The tools I developed helped to make my conference experience a success. Feel free to use and modify these for your own author talks and bookshop events.
What would help you celebrate your successes the most? A favorite playlist or a walk in the park? How do you take time to reflect and review? Share with our readers below!
Kris Maze is an author, writing coach, and teacher. She has worked in education for many years and writes for various publications, including Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish and the award-winning blog Writers in the Storm where she is also a host. You can find her horror stories and young adult writing on her website. Keep up with future projects and events by subscribing to her newsletter. And other writing work HERE.
A recovering grammarian and hopeless wanderer, Kris enjoys reading, writing in various languages, and spending time outdoors.
And occasionally, she hangs with language teachers, translators, and linguistic folks.
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