SPEAKING TO OUR FUTURE [GULP!]
Tomorrow — as part of World Book Day 2006 — I’m scheduled to speak in front of hundreds of elementary school students about literature and its importance.
When I first decided to speak my thinking was that this would be pretty simple. Go in, talk a bit about reading, writing, and publishing, field a few questions, leave. But first impressions can be deceiving. Kids in this age-range here in the States tend to have an attention span of 3.5 seconds. So my biggest concern was how to grip their attention and hold it throughout my fifteen minute presentation.
Digging back into my childhood memories, I tried to remember what I was like during this time in my life. I recalled that I could hardly sit still in class, let alone listen to somebody babble on about a topic that held minimal interest for me. Fifteen minutes? That was, like, an eternity! Being a child has different rules, different mindsets, and distinctly different reasons about what you want to do and see.
So how to handle tomorrow...
Coming to terms with my advancing years, I decided to do something different. Kids are very tactile and visual, so the first thing I need to do is give them both and give it to them quickly. My writers group printed up postcards of our colorful cover art for the two anthologies we produced, so that felt like a good place to start. Give them something solid to hold onto, not just my words floating in one ear and out the other. Having watched some really good speakers in my day, I noted that most of the great ones never stood still. Sitting behind a podium and pontificating about the "need to read" won’t keep the kids' pliable minds on the subject, so I’m going to move around the room, make their eyes follow me, maybe wave my arms in an overly dramatic fashion when I come to a vital point.
Finally, I’m not going to talk down to them. Kids nowadays are watching planes bomb buildings in faraway lands, peeking at milk cartons with missing children on them, playing with X-Boxes, mini-DVD players, and other high-tech items which seem to make them grow-up faster than I ever remember doing (I played "Pong" when I was growing up. Anyone else?)
So my mind is resting a bit easier as I work on what I want to say to America’s future. I think. At least I know "how" to say it. Now I’ve got to work on "what". Oh God! Less than 24 hours to go!