Meta-Practice

Unsolicited Advice: Tips for Artist’s Talks on Zoom

An artist recently asked how to be less nervous before an artist’s talk. Here are my suggestions.

Remember: The audience is pre-disposed to forgiving mistakes.

Friend and fellow artist Leah Rosenberg shared this wisdom from Yo-Yo Ma:

“…that’s not why we’re here, to watch the bad things that happened.”

Yo-Yo Ma, “Music Happens Between the Notes,” On Being podcast, September 4, 2014

 The audience wants you to succeed! They’re there because they are interested in you, you art, and in hearing you speak. So it’s OK to be yourself. No one needs you to be perfect!

At the same time, it is courteous and respectful to be prepared.

Have a script.

You don’t have to read it word for word—just know what talking points to hit. I aim for information density. I can be more clear and concise if I consolidate my thoughts in writing beforehand, than I would be if I ad-libbed.

Don’t just recite facts.

Sometimes artists put their ‘greatest hits’ into a slide deck, and deliver a talk by looking at the slide and reciting what the work is and when and where it happened. It can be very dry. Alternatively, structure your talk in sections by content (such as background, process, work), or take deeper dives into fewer bodies of work.

Tell the story of the development of a practice.

I find that audiences want to know: Why do you make what you make? How did you arrive at this inquiry or way of working? You could illustrate these ideas with process photos, sketches, or reference images. I think process photos are always welcome, and especially now under shelter-in-place.

Rehearse. Time. Cut.

I tend to put too many slides into my slide show for the time allowed. (Not sure how much time you’re allowed? Ask.) So I rehearse my presentation and time myself. Then I’ll edit down my slides. If I know time is tight, then I’ll minimize going off-script.

During the presentation, I try to set a timer on my phone (which is on mute, of course!) so I can stay close to the time allotted to me. This is less important if you’re the only artist talking. But the more artists there are, the more important it is to stick to a schedule.

Ask for questions in advance.

If an interview is planned, prepare and rehearse some answers to anticipated questions.

Move notes to the top of your screen.

I use InDesign for everything, so I present my slides via PDFs rather than Keynote, Powerpoint or Google Slides. Then I have a separate text document for my notes. When you start screen sharing in Zoom, it will go into full screen mode. I exit full screen and stack my Zoom window into a horizontal layer, which I move down when I’m presenting, so my notes can be up top, closer to the camera. 

Another option is to use two monitors, or an external monitor behind a laptop, for notes.

Include a slide with your name, website, and handles.

I don’t know why many artists shy away from this—it’s standard in other contexts. Make it easier for supporters to connect with you. You can include it at the beginning or the end.

Be happy to be there, and let it show!

One of my pet peeves is when artists look and sound bored talking about their own work. Many people go dead-eyed and monotone on Zoom. Add energy via warmth, humor, conviviality, and enthusiasm. Starting off with a warm smile is a great first step.

Cultivate conversation.

IRL conversations are interactive and fluid. On Zoom, dialogues can be stilted. People tend to speak in paragraphs. There can be woefully little interaction between presenters. Try to counter that by having more exchanges, asking questions in return, linking your point to someone else’s comments or work, and giving short answers when appropriate. 

Increase production value.

As a viewer, I appreciate it when guests or hosts on Zoom webinars step up their lighting and staging for public webinars. Here are simple lighting and staging tips from Tom Ford on NYT, and it doesn’t involve expensive or new A/V equipment.

Do a tech check.

It’s always a good idea for all presenters to log on 15 minutes in advance. Check that your sound and video is working, your slide deck is open, that your sound works on any videos, etc. 

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