Being There Without Being There

I did my first Skype visit last week. It was with the students of a publishing course being taught by Simmons College at the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, that needed a guest speaker. My visit was scheduled for Friday, which is the dress down day at the office, so I wore a dress shirt with jeans and sneakers and donned the spare tie I keep in the office. I looked presentable from the waist up.

Skype visits
Skype wants you

I told the story of our history as an independent publisher. Since LEE & LOW is a small publishing house, people are often unfamiliar with the company. We try to seize every opportunity to inform people about our mission to bring diversity to children’s books.

Skype lends itself well to visuals because a book’s illustrations look sharp on the computer’s built-in camera. I had to keep reminding myself to look into the camera instead of the window where the class was looking back at me just below the camera so it would appear that I was making eye contact with my audience.

Time flies when you’re Skyping, and an hour shot by in a New York minute. I think the sound quality was good as far as the class being able to hear me, but people in the classroom had to move closer to the computer in order for me to hear their questions. The class was out of focus to me, which may have been due to the fact that certain webcams are equipped with auto focus while others are not. Despite these small technical inconveniences, I was able to see people nodding their heads in response to what I said and hear them laughing at my attempts at humor, which made me feel like I was truly there.

Years ago I tested an early version of Skype, and I remember how awful the connection was. No problem now—this connection was fast! A few emerging collaborative applications that add desktop sharing and whiteboard capability to Skype look promising. I cannot wait to test them. It was also good for me to get a sense of what Skype visits are like firsthand because we are encouraging our authors and illustrators to participate in our new Skype program. This will enable them to keep visiting schools, even those faced with budget cuts, and stay connected to their readers.

I would love it if some of you would share your Skype experiences—good or bad. I think this is a really exciting opportunity to bring people closer.

9 thoughts on “Being There Without Being There”

  1. Thanks for posting this, it’s so encouraging. It’s something I am seriously considering for both of my book launches this year, in particular my YA novel. I’ve heard that Skype visits are growing in popularity and as my publisher is based in America and I live in the UK, I’m hoping it will enable me to connect with American readers too.

  2. Thanks for sharing this. As an author and now independent publisher I am always looking for ways to use the new technology to connect with readers. I love that schools that might not otherwise be able to afford to host a writer for an actual school visit can still have access to one via Skype. I have downloaded Skype but never used it myself. It seemed complicated but you have inspired me to try.

  3. I’m a children’s picture book writer based in Scotland, and did my first skype appearance as part of a “GLOW Meet” run by Learning & Teaching Scotland. I had 60 7-year-olds at my feet and about 30 other elementary schools watching live via computer. I read my book Jacob O’Reilly Wants a Pet and took questions from the audience. Despite technical challenges it went really well, and I felt like a celebrity! Skype is a great way to reach out to kids well beyond normal boundaries. I give it an A+!

  4. Great to get this feedback. I’m really interested in hearing how people are intending to use Skype as well as folks who have had some experiences. Also neat to hear from folks in the UK. The world is a much smaller place now and I’m liking it.

  5. I had two Skype visits in March. One in Iowa and the other was in New Hampshire (I’m in Oklahoma).Both were great. The kids laughed at the funny parts when I read my books. I hope the teacher wasn’t holding up cue cards! The kids and the teachers asked questions about writing and getting published. It was a wonderful way to reach an audience I might not have a chance to visit in person.

  6. I did my first Skype author event recently with a class of teachers on a Saturday. Run by the resource teacher for San Diego City Schools, the idea was to demonstrate how Skype works and figure out ways to use Skype effectively in the classroom. It was really fun to make this virtual audience laugh.
    The good part? You can Skype in your fuzzy slippers. Plus, no rushing around putting an address into Gwendolyn (my GPS), setting up, making sure the PPT is up and running, putting up your displays . . . you writers are familiar with the drill.
    But the bad? You miss the face time. Yesterday I was in Warner Springs, for three presentations. I had a long talk after the middle school session with three 14-year-old guys, all avid writers, all so excited about words, language, plot, and could encourage them firsthand to be submitting their work now to contests and magazines. Two girls told me, “We love, love, love Armando and the Blue Tarp School.” Then, as we were leaving, we met a group of Kindergartners and the teacher said, “Wow! Boys and girls! That’s the author who wrote the lemon tree book.” A little dude looked way up at me and said, full of wonderment and inflection, “ARE YOU SERIOUS???!!!” Made us laugh out loud.
    Are fabulous moments like these possible with Skyping? We shall see . . .
    Edith Hope Fine

  7. Great commentary Jason! Virtual visits are low cost way to get information out to the masses. On one hand I feel that something is lost by not having the the face to face intimate presence in a room full of participants but on the other it’s efficient and a correspondence between a presenter and the younger generation that will definitely keep the students (audience) engaged. I’ve been doing virtual visits since the late 90’s even before there was a skype and you needed to rent a device from kinko’s or the local college..never once did a teacher have to tell the kids to quiet down or not speak to each other while they are watching me on a screen. The younger generation seems to simply have a greater respect for a television, or screen when in a classroom setting. Maybe they are just rewired that way? Aside from my person feelings of preferring the tangible over the virtual I feel that there’s room for both. At the end of the day it’s about sending an efficient message and setting the groundwork for further enlightenment.

    lastly been hearing good things about ooVoo as a skype alternative.

  8. All good comments. I especially like the sharing of the pluses and minuses of Skyping. Really really helpful to share resources and experiences. I’ll have to check out ooVoo as per Greg’s suggestion, as I’ve never heard of that one.

    I also had a good laugh when Edith mentioned her GPS’s name. My GPS is set to the British female setting, so we named her Liz (after Liz Hurley).

  9. By the way, someone tried to click on the image of me above expecting a video to commence. There is no video. The image is just something I made to go along with the blog post. Sorry for the confusion.

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