That moment with your audience

Every year I present to various schools that use my first novel, This Side of Normal, as a text within the Biology curriculum. I love these opportunities because I get to speak with teens I don’t work with, and have the opportunity to connect with them about storytelling. This past Friday I attempted this with an auditorium of freshman.

When I pulled up to Shaker High School I tweeted this:


Little did I know just how prophetic these words would be.

I know how checked out students can be on a Friday afternoon, and this group came in riled up and ready for the weekend. I watched the cliques form along the rows, saw the unimpressed looks, the phones out, the boredom.

This is a fear-inducing moment, that instant when you realize the story about to be told had better be one awesome experience or the next forty minutes are going to be painful for everyone. That “A game”? Yeah, bring it.

And so I did. My presentation is on Prezi, so score one there. I didn’t tell the kids to put their phones away, because that’s like asking them to hold their breath–it’s only going to last so long. Another score. Then I asked them to relax and let me entertain them before the weekend hit. They eased back, and I began.

I tell my story of realizing I have type 1, how I handled that at home and at school. I tell wacky stories and bounce around the room. Literally. And on this day I did so with more gusto than I would normally. And the audience was into it. They laughed at my jokes, answered questions when I asked, and overall had a good time.

Then came the true test–No, not the pitch for my other books, that came at the end. I cannot talk about diabetes without discussing my daughter, Kaygan*. However, this was the first time I did so in front of a room of strangers, of teenagers who wanted to be into the weekend.

I pulled up the slide with the following picture:

photo (11)

The room was silent as I explained. To their credit, this group of kids who had read my book, and may or may not have been interested in what I had to say, treated with reverence, what were, for me, some of the most difficult words I have ever uttered.

That was the moment. Not the one where I knew I had to earn this presentation, but the one where I knew they cared. Because, really, that’s what my presentation is about. Caring enough to share, to pay attention, and to tell powerful stories. They got it, and then I talked about Tap Out and gave them a sneak peek at Dare Me.

The presentation was nerve-wracking and painful and a little sad, but ultimately triumphant. Just like the novel they had all read. There’s something to that. And I have the freshman of Shaker High to thank. Here are a couple of their tweets to me:



Keep it classy, Blue Bison.

*For those of you who have followed Kaygan’s diagnosis and adjustment: she’s now on an insulin pump and doing very well. She’s the same diva, but with one exceptional accessory. 

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