My top tips for chairing a festival event 

Swapna HaddowHalfway Round the World with the Haddows, Scrapbook

This weekend was the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival. The theme of the festival was ‘a moment that marks the beginning of a journey, to the place where the river meets the sea – Te Pūao’ and the incredible star-studded line up of writers, illustrators and creatives included Witi Ihimaera, Fiona Farrell, Jacinta Ruru, Stacey Morrison, Ruth Paul, Susan Wardell, Michaela Keeble and Tokerau Brown, Barbara Else, Emily Writes, Coco Solid and so many, many more.

This year I was not in the role of author but instead MC for the Pakiwaitara Children’s Storytime sessions. It is not my usual role but I learnt heaps on the job and here are my top tips for hosting the children’s sessions of a festival:

  1. Get to know your guests and their books. This is the fun part. I had a good read of all my guests books ahead of the festival and it was an utter treat to put time into my schedule just to read and call it work! I also reached out to all the authors and illustrators to find out more about what they planned for their events and if they had specific introductions they wanted from me. Not everyone will get back to you and when they do they may not answer all the questions you have because they themselves have not yet figured it out, (being on the other side of these events as an author – I totally understood this), so my tip top toppy tip is do your research anyway for biographies and then adjust if your hear back.
  2. Be ready for any number of guests and any age group and have a team to support you so if you run into technical hiccups or a lack of paper for craft activities you can get help!
  3. Attendees are here to see your guests and not to see you so keep those intros short and make sure the spotlight is entirely on your guests.

Susan Wardell reading The Lighthouse Princess

Ruth Paul making jellyfish

Michaela Keeble, Tokerau Brown and me

I also got to chair an adult event this year which I was quite nervous about. Though I have attended many book events from grown ups and even presented at a couple of writing workshops and talks, I have to admit my forte is very much seven-year-olds and fart jokes. But I’m glad I did it and I’ve added another string to my bow. Here are my top tips for chairing book events for grown ups. Guess what? They aren’t that different from my top tips for children’s events!:

  1. Be prepared. Read the book, learn about your guests, and reach out. They will be just as nervous as you (probably) and will want to work closely to make sure questions and topics run seemlessly throughout the conversation and that you don’t ask things they may make someone uncomfortable.
  2. Find out if they would like to do a reading. The audience loves this but it’s best not to assume that the author is comfortable to read. Making sure everyone is happy and comfortable will ensure a great event.
  3. If the chair set up feels too formal, it’s OK to change it up! Again, you want everyone, including yourself, to feel comfortable becasue it is nerve-wracking to have all eyes on you.
  4. Have questions and topics to keep the conversation flowing, especially if the audience doesn’t step up with questions. Be ready to fill in the silence.

Barbara Else, Emily Writes and me

And my final top tip for ALL events is to say THANK YOU. There is a team always working behind the scenes to help you so remember to remind them that they are awesome.