It all started innocently enough as a cardboard rendition of the *me*. Then a t-shirt bearing the logo of the UA traveled to the Bahamas for Deneki Outdoors’ FIBfest. Most recently *I* traveled all the way to Michigan to catch a single smelt (not single malt) when fishing with Fontinalis Rising. Essentially *I* have been going fishing in places without me leaving the comfort of my office, or having to wear pants. Well, it gets worse. Or better, depending. Just recently *I* made an appearance at a virtual school. I was in effect, a not-real author.
I’ve given presentations at physical schools before, and it’s a very rewarding experience that also entails a lot of planning, especially where significant travel is required, but that’s part of the adventure. Like the time I flew to Kansas City for a author visit and was sandwiched on the plane from Denver to KC by two very gregarious, very large corn-fed brothers returning home from a vacation to the California coast. Thankfully they were in good spirits and didn’t start fighting on the plane. It was quite an enjoyable encounter to pass the time with these two farm boys, and that sort of thing doesn’t happen when you’re a virtual author.
My presentation was to a group of about 50 kids who are part of the Washington Virtual Academy (WAVA). My “visit” was the first of it’s kind as part of what they called the Visiting Author Virtual Adventure. It was a WAVA VAVA, if you will. After a dry run a couple of days prior, to make sure that everything was working from a technical standpoint, I felt confident that being a virtual author would be a snap. Much easier than if I were playing the part of a real author. After all, it was certainly easier to catch fish when I wasn’t there. This would be a snap.
On the day of the virtual visit, like any professional I didn’t shave or shower, and in fact was wearing sweats and slippers when it was time to log in to the virtual classroom. I strapped on my headset and microphone and settled in. I felt somewhat like a radio disc jockey. Or an air traffic controller.
After an introduction I began the same way that I do when I’m a real person at a brick and mortar school – by asking a question designed to get kids involved: “How many of you like opening presents?” Usually a room full of hands is enthusiastically extended skyward but in the virtual world, there were no hands. Instead, a bunch of smiley faces appear on the screen next to the names of the students. Relieved for the response, I proceeded into my presentation. “Good. Well, fishing is a lot like opening presents, because there’s always a surprise.” I waded through my Powerpoint slide show which includes photos of wildlife, scenery, kids fishing, and of course fish. Without the occasional distraction of a child punching their neighbor in the arm or picking their nose while staring blankly straight at me, my delivery was smooth and confident. So confident was I that at one point I made a subtle attempt at a humorous comment. Without having a real flesh and blood audience to giggle at my sophisticated humor, the awkward silence was deafening, even with headphones on. Luckily none of my virtual audience could see me squirm in my chair and I decided not to attempt any more clever acts for the remainder of the presentation. Tough virtual crowd.
At the end of 50 minutes my formal presentation had concluded and it was question and answer time. Assuming it would follow a similar display where a virtual hand would be raised so that I could call upon them to type a question, suddenly the dialog box was flooded with rapid-fire questions, typed out at lightening speed. These are kids that are comfortable on a keyboard, and as I tried to read one question aloud, 5 more would appear and force me to lose my place. Frantically scrolling through the list I was relieved that one thing never changes: the nature of the questions being asked is the same everywhere, whether the kids are sitting right in front of me or if they appear as avatars on a screen. Familiar questions such as: “How old are you?” “Do you have a dog?” “You must be a really good fisherman- what’s the biggest fish you ever caught?” I was happy to answer all questions except that last one. I could have lied, since that’s what fishermen do. “Oh, look at the virtual digital time display – we’re all out of time, kids!”
All in all it was a good experience and the presentation was well-received by all in virtual attendance. At least that’s what the virtual teacher told me, via email, following the visit. Who knows – this may be the wave of the future. I may just have a face for virtual author visits.