Dawn of a New Adventure (Part 6)

Just did my third talk on drugs and prison to a school. In the previous talk, several female students started crying during excerpts from my upcoming book. So after the success of that one and the first talk, I swaggered into Ashford School in Kent expecting more of the same, but the beginning didn't work out as planned. I introduced myself, and started the jail story. I asked for a volunteer to read the first of the excerpts from my blog and upcoming book. In previous talks, many hands went up at this point from eager students willing to read. But on this occasion, I was met by a wall of silence. Many of them looked skeptical. Others seemed to be drifting off elsewhere. For a few seconds, I wondered what to do. Is it all about to go wrong? I thought. Then I asked the teacher who'd booked me to select someone to read. That stirred them up a bit, and each subsequent jail anecdote captured more of their attention, until I had them all on-board. In the Q&A session, endless hands went up, and as usual there wasn't enough time to answer all of the questions.

The teacher congratulated me at the end. A group of students kindly invited me to eat with them in the canteen, where they bombarded me with more questions. I told them I'd worried about how the talk was going at first. They explained that they get talks every two weeks. Mostly stuff that doesn't interest them. So they arrive at the talks ready to zone out. That was the atmosphere I'd detected at the beginning, but hadn't understood why. They said having the teacher pick readers had forced them to pay attention, and they'd quickly got hooked on my story after that. They said it was like something from a movie - The Shawshank Redemption was mentioned - but my presence made it real to them. One student said she'd seen Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Tent City on TV. I could see the impact of my story in the eyes of the students I was sat with, and that gave me a good feeling.

So what started out with resistance that led me to worry I was doing something wrong ended up a success. Today, I learned that every audience has its own character, and there may be forces at work on an audience that I shouldn't take personally.

I'm still buzzing from it all, and looking forward to my next talks in January.

I've got three radio interviews coming up, and details will be posted here soon.

Click here for Dawn of a New Adventure (Part 5)

Click here for details of my talk

Post comments below or email them to writeinside@hotmail.com To post a comment if you do not have a Google/Blogger account, just select anonymous for your identity.

Shaun P. Attwood


Sue O. (aka Joannie, SS) said...

Great job! Nothing is worse than having a less than captive audience. I have found at the jail that using personal experiences and engaging the inmates more personally really helps the interest level. You're going to learn by experience and get better and better. I think a really great speaker learns to read the their audience like you did and adjust. Awesome!

Anonymous said...

well done - sounds like it is all going well.


Ian H said...

Good stuff. It didn't take them long to be converted. I always find that two presentations are never the same, and for preparation I always think of the most difficult questions that you may be asked and a possible answer, or in your case a less than captive audience. If in doubt, a small bribe always work. £5 for the best question!
Ian H

Jon said...

Thanks, Sue & Kags!

Not knowing what to expect from the audience adds to the challenge and excitement of it all. But at the end of the day, if I can prevent some of the students from ending up behind bars or facing other negative consequences, then that's all that really matters.


Jon said...

ps) that's a good idea, Ian, I might have to try that, maybe offer £5 for the best volunteer reader as there's never been a shortage of questions


Slamdunk said...

It sounds like you handled the "curve ball" that the young audience threw you well. Nice adjustment.

Anonymous said...

I hope your Mum and Dad are proud of the way you are using your experience to such positive advantage.


Angie b said...

Much love!

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