Some years ago I was presenting at the Kentucky Book Fair. It was a miserable, cold, rainy day, and there were over one hundred authors present.
I was due to give a presentation in a tent off the beaten path. When I got there, nobody was there. Over the next ten minutes three people arrived.
- The tent monitor
- A librarian who had my book
- My friend, Louise Hawes, who didn’t want the tent to be empty
Everyone was apologetic that almost nobody came to hear my presentation. The tent monitor suggested I get off of the stage, and just sit quietly with the three of them in the font row. I just shrugged, got up on the platform and started performing as if the tent were packed.
It sort of shocked the three people in the front row. About ten minutes into my presentation, the tent was packed. People were drawn to the tent, found seats and settled in for the rest of the presentation.
Louise told me she learned something that day. She had cancelled appearances before because the gathering was paltry. I told her that years of doing summer reading in libraries taught me one thing…if the audience outnumbers me, its a show!
Over the years, I have had lots of odd experiences as a teller. The one thing that has been true of all of them is that you just keep telling.
Once, when I was at the Brookfield Zoo during the opening of their Africa exhibit, I was telling “Why Mosquitos Buzz In People’s Ears”, when the audience started snapping photos top speed. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a figure, and when I turned, the baby giraffe had come over and was watching me. It stood there about five feet from me blinking and staring. It remained there for the rest of the story. When I was done, it shook itself like it had come out of a trance, and wandered back towards its mother.
Recently I was telling at a high school where the students began cutting class to come back and listen to later shows. They were unapologetic about their antics, and their teachers were so pleased they were determined to watch more stories, they let them.
The first time I was ever in a situation where I ended up with an audience member who floored me was shortly after I graduated from Northwestern. After my presentation, a woman stopped me and asked if I’d ever written a book. I said, ‘No’, and she gave me her card. That woman turned out to be Katherine Tegen, an editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books.
You never know who is in your audience. You never know what they need, or what they want.
Whether there are two or two hundred, they always deserve everything you’ve got.
Donna Washington, Storyteller
Donna is a national storyteller, author, workshop presenter and award winning recording artist. She has been featured at thousands of schools, festivals and conferences across the country.