This past Thursday, I had one of the most harrowing, yet wonderful experiences in my life, and while it was fresh in the mind, I wanted to put some thoughts down on this blog. Several months ago, a good friend suggested that I submit a proposal for this event called “Ignite Baltimore.” Not really fully understanding what it was, and the amount of work it would require, I took my normal approach of “Ready, shoot, aim” and agreed. My proposal was overlooked for IGNITE 4, but then accepted for IGNITE 5 at the Walters Art Gallery. Now, those of you that know me, know that I would vastly prefer to get up and sing in front of 5000 people, in a foreign language, for four hours at a stretch…rather than speak…my own words, for five minutes! That being said, I found it to be a wonderful experience, and one that forced me to focus some thoughts, and spend some time examining what it is I am actually trying to do with Baltimore Concert Opera.
So, now, I’d like to give myself some advice for next time:
Take the amount of work that you THINK you have to put into the presentation, and quadruple it.
- I very naively thought that my background as a performing artist would give me a leg up in the “wing it” department. This is a very unique format, where you get five minutes…only five minutes. You get 20 slides…only 20 slides. If you want to have a successful talk, you must prepare adequately. I did put a lot of work into this presentation, but looking back on it…I wish that I had spent more time, in order to fully take advantage of the opportunity. A couple of key points slipped through the cracks, during the heat of battle.
Start earlier! Meet with the smartest people you know….
- We’re all very busy…but seriously. Start earlier. One thing I did RIGHT was to meet with the smartest person that I know, early on in the planning process. Fortunately, her astute observation was that the entire premise of my initial proposal would likely fall on deaf ears, and that I needed to “know my audience.” This was the best advice I could get, but I wish I had gotten it a month before! You are obviously passionate about your subject, or you wouldn’t have submitted a proposal to get up in front of 500 people to talk about it…sometimes it is best to have an outside perspective early in the planning stages.
Practice, Practice, Practice.
- Then, practice a little more. I cannot stress enough that as much as you THINK you know what it is going to feel like…you don’t. Unless you speak to large crowds on a daily basis…you don’t. Your body and mind do funny things when you are put into stressful situations. As mentioned above, I am accustomed to regularly getting up on stage in front of thousands…and as a performer, I am always most comfortable when I know that a piece has been well rehearsed. Why should a presentation be any different? In my case, steps 1 and 2 from above happened too late in the game for me to adequately rehearse…at least for MY comfort level. The level of preparation was pretty evident across the panel of speakers, and generally, the better prepared they were, the better the presentations were. Here are a few ideas that I will remember, the next time I have to practice somthing like this:
- Get early feedback. The worst thing that you can do is “practice the bad golf swing” over and over. Make sure you are really clear on what you want to say BEFORE you dive into practicing and fine tuning.
- Your I-pod is your friend! In the 11th hour, I came up with an idea that I wish I had thought of earlier. I made a “movie” of my slides in powerpoint, and set them to advance every 15 seconds…uploaded to my I-pod, then had a real-time version of the presentation to practice with, wherever I was. This proved to be very helpful, and I think I might have fried without it. What this allowed for was to spend a little more than 15 seconds on some points, find good places to catch up, and deal with something I hadn’t accounted for…crowd noise. I guess I never left myself open to the idea that people might actually laugh and applaud.
3. A great piece of advice came from Ellen Worthing, whose presentation was a hoot, and really in the spirit of ignite. She let me know during the dress rehearsal that a few days prior, there was a knock on the door from some Jehovah’s Witness folks…she invited them in, and proceeded to give her presentation. I am still laughing about this, but let me tell you, it was effective. She did a great job!
I cannot stress enough that you need to remember what a great opportunity you have been given! You get FIVE minutes to speak to a large group of people about something that you are passionate about. Some of the most enjoyable presentations seemed to really embrace that idea. My hat goes off to James Bon Tempo, Hanna Friedman (a really inspiring teenager, that made the rest of us look like rank amateurs) Ellen Worthing, Peter Davis, and Jessica Kohnen Karaska, because your presentations (to this humble viewer) seemed to be most in this spirit. They sparked thought, and action…James, I’m going to be sending in several cell phones, thanks to you! Ellen, I’ll never drive by that big car lot off of 895 and look at it the same way again…nor will I send Jehovah’s witnesses away without thinking…”hmm…” first. Peter, rather than trying to keep my two lives separate (real estate and opera), I will embrace your ideas and focus on how each can help the other. Hanna, I will hope that my two year old grows up to be like you. Jessica, I will be thankful for your passion as my kid enters school age!
The rest of the presentations were very good as well, and I am glad that I have YOUTUBE, because I can now go back and look at them again, without the stress of thinking….OHMYGOD, I actually have to do this! Or, OHMYGOD, what just happened? Really, congrats to everyone….I cannot wait for IGNITE BALTIMORE 6! I will be way more relaxed, and ready to be inspired!
Hats off to the folks at IGNITE, for getting close to five hundred people come out to hear about ideas. Baltimore is a pretty cool place to live!
For those that care, here’s my five minutes: