Creating an artist's lecture about one's own work can be an immensely fulfilling but it can be nerve-wracking too. My first venture into public speaking was a thirty-minute talk about an interactive animation called Littoral Zone. In February of 1999, I flew to Providence, RI, rented a car and got lost at least six times in attempting to find Connecticut College. The title of my talk was "Littoral Zone: Seeing Bodies and Letters in Cyberspace." This lecture was part of a festival called the Seventh Biennial Symposium on Arts and Technology.
I remember walking up to the podium and facing a vast auditorium with seating capacity for 300 bodies. There were approximately 75 artists and theorists scattered mostly in the rear rows expectantly waiting for me to begin. I was instantly paralyzed when I looked out across the vast room to the tiny bodies sitting in back. I panicked and internally began to speculate as to how I could shorten my lecture without upsetting anyone. Then I remembered some advice a professor had given me. He said, "Tiff, if you ever get distracted or nervous in a lecture, just have your paper handy so you can read it as a backup." Lo and behold, in my sweaty palms I was clutching precisely this backup document. I pulled it out, and began to read. Slowly, as I made it through the first and second paragraphs, I began to relax. I had a second moment of horror when I realized I had forgotten to launch my slide presentation and that the audience was staring at my Macintosh desktop wallpaper featuring my adorable jet-black kitten, Mussina.
Overall, my first attempt at public speaking was not particularly successful. I did relax toward the end of my time spent reading the paper-enough so that I could ad-lib a little bit and make eye contact with the distant audience. Since 1999, I've given tons of talks and honed my public speaking skills considerably. But I often think of that cold winter day at Connecticut College. The basic things I learned that day have become part of a checklist that I read through each time I pack my laptop bag to go to a festival or conference. I mentally go through this again just before my talk is to take place. Below is the checklist-perhaps some things will be useful to the readers here at CAR:
1) Make sure you have a copy of a paper or lecture notes to read in case of unforeseen emergency (Also, if you can't be at the lecture due to mishap, you can offer to have someone else read your presentation). Print this out at home. Don't count on the conference venue having a laser printer in the auditorium.
2) Email or phone the person who is organizing the lecture to make sure that you have all the hardware you need at the presentation site. A very typical problem I've seen is when people want to show a video and there is no speaker system ready to port the sound.
3) Double check your laptop bag to make sure you have all the components you need for your lecture: laptop, DVI adapter, VGA cable (useful to have an extra), Ethernet cable (useful to have if you need access to web imagery), and power adapter. If you are traveling in a foreign country check the web to see if you need to buy an additional electrical adapter.
4) Buy a USB jump drive to take to conferences. It's a useful tool in case you meet someone who has an image or a paper that you would like an electronic copy of.
5) Consider using PowerPoint or Keynote to show slides so that if something is wrong with your computer you can easily transfer your presentation to a friend's laptop-using your USB jump drive. Obscure applications are cool but lose their charm the first time you forget the DVI converter and have to use a computer without your favorite piece of presentation freeware.
6) Ask a friend to listen to you go through your presentation and time your talk. The worst thing you can do to a friendly enthusiastic audience is to go over your allotted time. Try to do your talk using a projector so you can make sure the resolution of the projected image is what you imagine it should be.
7) Before you begin to talk, check to make sure your computer is powered up to the correct screen.
8) Double check to make sure the "energy settings" on your computer are set to presentation style so that the audience does not have to look at a screensaver during your talk.
9) Double check to make sure your battery is fully charged, or better, that your AC power adapter is plugged in. Having the screen go black in the middle of your presentation is no fun.
10) Make sure you understand how to use keys on your computer to go backwards one slide and to go forwards one slide.
11) Before you begin your talk, look at the lecture space. If there are a lot of empty seats in front ask people to move forward closer to you.
12) Begin your talk by establishing a personal relationship with your audience. This relationship can be cemented through eye contact, a funny picture, or a personal anecdote.
13) As you talk, try to scan the room. Move your eyes left, center, and right. Audiences like to feel connected to the speaker.
14) Finally, have fun. Your audience will pick up on your enthusiasm and become more interested in your topic.
Tiffany Holmes' research activities are currently focused on using technology and art to increase public awareness about environmental issues. With a BA in art history from Williams College, Holmes received a MFA in painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art and an MFA in digital arts from the University of Maryland. Holmes has lectured and exhibited worldwide in these venues: J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Digital Salon, Viper in Switzerland, Next 1.0 in Sweden, Siggraph 2000, World@rt in Denmark, Interaction '01 in Japan, and ISEA Nagoya '02. Holmes was awarded a three-year research fellowship at the University of Michigan, the Illinois Arts Council grant, an Artists-In-Labs residency in Switzerland, and most recently an NCSA design commission. Currently, Holmes is an Assistant Professor of Art and Technology at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.