Zooming: Super Great, But I Miss Real People too

Yesterday I gave a zoom presentation on the life and work of Frida Hansen for the St. Louis Weavers Guild. It was fun, I think it went very well, but a couple of things made me long for the days of real people, sitting in real folding chairs, in the same room as me. There’s a bit of magic to the moment when the lights go down and the beautiful colors on a large projected screen capture the attention of the audience. With zoom, that inevitably awkward moment of switching to the shared screen is much less magical. I am always sure to check in WAY ahead of time to be sure that my shared screen is just the right proportions for my slides, but still…

With a virtual presentation it’s important to have the audience muted; otherwise someone’s spouse or dog entering the room creates a weird intrusion. But as a speaker, it’s hard to have NO feedback. Is my humorous aside even funny? Yesterday the host remained unmuted and when I said something, her chuckle came through. Her WELCOME response came through–it struck me how much the mood of an audience can be a wonderful affirmation.

I forgot to lock my cat Buzz out of the top floor, so of course he leapt up on the desk and waltzed by the screen as I talked. I interrupted, said I had to get rid of the cat, and tossed him off the edge of the desk. His ungraceful thud was a little horrifying–OMG, the audience is going to think that I ABUSE MY CAT. What they did not see is that he came right back up and settled in the pile of yarn butterflies I organized during the business meeting before my talk began.

Really, he forgives me!

During recent experiences as an audience member and a presenter I’ve become more appreciative of the “chat” function. During my first couple of zoom presentations I was so nervous about the pace of my lecture, and then with responding to questions via the host, that I didn’t even look at the chat comments. Now that my comfort level is high, I manage to read more comments and appreciate the positive feedback and interest by viewers I only see in tiny boxes.

I’m starting to be more responsive via chat as a zoom attendee. Recently I listened to a lecture by Rachel McGarry, the Prints and Drawings Curator at MIA (the Minneapolis Insitute of Arts), “Before Vaccines: Art and the Plague in Italy.” Her talk was dense and scholarly and wonderful–boy, you forget how many horrific paintings about plagues have been done! It was also a reminder that there wasn’t just one plague, but many over the centuries, plagues that could wipe out 50 or 80% of whole villages. And yet, civilizations–people–once again gathered together as families, music fans, party-goers, and more. My chat comment was that despite all of the disturbing art images, I felt a bit hopeful–this latest plague will pass, too.

This 16th-Century engraving is by Raimondi (Credit: The National Gallery of Art Washington DC)

On Tuesday, when I speak to the Iowa City Guild about the life and work of Frida Hansen, it will be my seventh Zoom presentation since September. I feel so grateful for these opportunities, but I look forward to darkening the lights in a room with real people in the future, too.