Hey cHEwY gum gums!

As my bookings for author visits began to switch over from in-person to virtual, I had mixed emotions. While I was thankful to still be working, I was also tackling feelings of disappointment and dread. Last year, virtual school visits were a novelty, but after doing a few Zoom sessions, I was adamant that no virtual author visit can ever replace the in-person experience. Plus they were a slog, I felt more tired after virtual sessions because I had to talk more to fill up the dead space usually reserved for students’ responses (and laughter haha).

Last week, I did the Step Into Stories Festival from my writing studio. I was meant to be in Toowoomba, but all the schools agreed to switch over to virtual visits, and I was glad they did, because I discovered the real joy of doing virtual author visits.

I was able to see the students’ happy and eager faces, in their classrooms and libraries, and that visual feedback makes a world of difference. I was able to interact using simple hands-up prompts, fingers in the air, and if the space or tech permits, listen to their suggestions. I became more comfortable with the quiet, and focused on slowing down my voice, emphasising tone and key words to get my points across. I made sure that I was hiding behind a powerpoint presentation shared screen, and did a lot more facetime. Yes, it was still exhausting, but I was buzzing, feeling the same way from an in-person visit.

And what about the schools who are remote learning? While some schools require the kids to show their faces, there were also other sessions where I was staring at a blank screen of names in cubes. I wasn’t daunted this time, I leaned on my ‘podcast’ skills to get personal, sounding as if it was just a convo between me and them. I do miss the laughter, but not having to land punchlines meant that I could go down a slightly different route.

I talked about lockdown because Brain Freeze had two short stories about kids stuck at home, but I also shared how I was feeling. I told them to write about lockdown because in ten or twenty years time, people will want to know what the pandemic was like. What is normally a short bit of my talk became something more personal because of this extended lockdown. I wanted to show the kids that I could relate to them, because yes cheesy as it sounds, we’re all in this together.

I’ve discovered that in-person and virtual school visits are equally satisfying now. Teachers and teacher-librarians email me afterwards telling me that I made the kids’ day, and for an hour they forgot about being stuck at home. I hope they realise that the feeling is mutual.


About the author

I'm an author, stand-up comedian and teacher. My books include Thai-riffic!, Con-nerd, Punchlines and The Other Christy. I'm a massive Nintendo fan and love eating burgers. Follow me on Twitter or Instagram @oliverwinfree

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