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Adventures in Garden Speaking

Murphy’s Law and all that…

It was a dark and stormy night. Well, the storms hadn’t started yet when I began my talk for the Anacostia Watershed Society at their historic headquarters in Bladensburg, MD — a former tavern that was a favorite socializing spot of George Washington’s. I set up my laptop and projector in the upstairs meeting room and everything started off smoothly, when all of a sudden, a tremendous wind blew in and all the windows slammed shut with a bang. We were plunged into darkness and I was only a quarter-way through my slide show describing local native plant choices. Luckily, my laptop battery was fully charged and I was able to turn the screen around so the small crowd could gather round to see the plant photos while I completed my talk. But what if it hadn’t been charged? Would I have been able to continue on without it?

From that day forward, I promised myself to always be prepared to give any talk with or without audio-visual (A-V) assistance. That vow has been a lifesaver when I have found myself in situations that ranged from challenging to sublimely ridiculous. For instance, I once was assured that a garden club’s host had a projection screen in her home, only to arrive and find that not only was there no screen, there was also not one blank wall available. I ended up giving the talk while projecting onto the surface of a large Turkish brass serving tray!

Using plant props at a neighborhood garden talk. Photo by Alan Bowser.

If you speak enough, you will have many similar stories to share. Here are some of my tips for being prepared for all speaking emergencies:

• Have back-ups. Even if the host says they have all the equipment, bring your own laptop and projector along with extra cords and save your file to a USB drive.

• Print out your PowerPoint slides and notes. Always have one set in your bag that you can refer to should your A-V display fail.

• Use props. I give a talk on garden tool selection and maintenance that is purely me talking and doing show-and-tell; the same with my talk on basic flower arranging. There are many times when you are much better off doing a live demonstration rather than using a PowerPoint slide-show. Always have one or two of these talks prepared and ready to go as a substitute just in case you arrive at your venue and Murphy’s Law has prevailed.

By the way, I’m part of a speakers’ bureau called Our goal is to make it easier for garden clubs, botanical gardens, and other groups to find the kind of high-quality speakers they are looking for. If you know about groups that are looking to book quality garden speakers, please let them know about it.

About the Author:

Kathy Jentz is editor/publisher of Washington Gardener magazine ( Washington Gardener magazine is the gardening publication published specifically for the local metro area — zones 6–7 — Washington DC and its suburbs.