As an educator, I’m approached by students, alumni, colleagues, administration and outside parties through email…a ton. In fact, a big part of my after hours is spent on replying to all sorts of issues. Some big. Some small. Never anything in between, interestingly enough. But, the big ones are the ones I’m really proud of because it’s usually a moment where I can address a significant issue that relates to the professional development of my students…
…emails that provide a teachable moment that happens out of class, out of the designed curriculum and with no current place in my class itinerary: teaching in real-time, as I like to say.
I put a lot of care into every thing I do and, although trying to be informative, my secondary intention with these well considered emails is to impress upon my students the power of words and the value in articulating thought through written form. EMAILS THAT KICK ASS are a collection of such correspondence…cut and pasted directly from my Outlook box, but with names changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty!
*TEN RULES* is a very basic list of things to consider for the budding practitioner who is having to give a brief artist talk. Perhaps even their first ever.
I was bringing a group of 4 students and alumni of the RIT Glass Program to an International Student Symposium held in Northern Scotland in the Summer of 2017. Part of that experience required each participant to give a 10-minute talk about their work. One of the RIT participants reached out and asked for some advice as he was developing an approach to this public speaking/presentation experience. I thought on what would be important for me to have heard when I was just out of college and submitted the following:
1. Determine a sequence that works best for you in how you present your work in a slideshow. Chronological order usually makes the most sense to us, but, even if it does, don’t feel like you have to be 100% loyal to the timeline. Whatever best transitions one work (or body of work) into another.
2. Keep the slideshow moving…try not to sit on a slide for more than 20 seconds. This is where multiple images of the same piece and details really pay off. And when you get really slick at “moving a slideshow along” you integrate multiple slides that are up for a second at a time to illustrate a point or map out a thought. Almost like rapid fire.
3. To help with this notion to keep the slideshow moving, also integrate sources of reference to help provide context when it comes to talking about your ideas, your thinking, and/or your intentions. These sources of reference could be artists. These could be non-art influences. These could be documentation of process. These could be representations of a memory or associations to a feeling. These could be anything. I steal from the Google Images ALL the time. I screen shot stuff from other people’s Instagram or download other people’s stuff from Facebook. I scan things I find in books and magazines. I’ll fabricate moments and shoot it with my iPhone. It’s extra work to keep a slideshow moving along, but it really pays off when it’ done well in all sorts of ways.
4. Keep presentations focused on your work. Don’t let too much personal information/background takeover. Talking about “home” or “family” or “your job” or whatever can be appropriate if those things play a significant part in your studio practice. However, I’ve been in artist talks that were about 5% art-related and 95% autobiography. Everybody came to hear the artist speak about their making and their thinking, not their pets and their vacations. We were all pissed. The artist lost a lot of credibility in our books.
5. If we are given 10 minutes to speak, don’t go over 10 minutes. It’s bad form. In fact, don’t feel obligated to use all 10 minutes if you don’t want to. After all, these are just little tastes we’re giving each other about who we are as creative individuals. When I am invited to speak somewhere and am given 60 minutes to speak, I always shoot for 45 minutes. If given 45 minutes, I always shoot for 35. No matter how supportive or interested our listening public is to sit in on our artist talks (whether in Scotland or anywhere), I’ve learned this: my excitement in having permission to talk about myself for a significant amount of time is far greater than a listening public’s ability to stay attentive and engaged for that significant amount of time. **which is another reason why I developed the “keep the slideshow moving” philosophy**
6. Want to know just how long your presentation is? You practice it. Many times. By practicing it you also can catch little things to change in both your content and your delivery. You can also catch any weird shit that you weren’t expecting to be weird (…like playing video. I’m always surprised when people can’t find the PLAY button when delivering a slideshow THAT THEY PUT TOGETHER!!!)
7. Practicing also lets you get comfortable with your delivery. Some people are naturally charismatic. Most of us have to fake it. For those of us fakers, we have notes and Presenter View…and simply reading those notes out loud is no good…always stiff and, in turn, instantly sours an audience’s engagement. Practicing out loud lets you figure out things like volume, pacing, intonation, cadence, phrasing…all the stuff that helps us avoid sounding like a robot. Especially when we’re relying heavily on our notes in Presenter View. The more we practice it, the more we know it. The more we know it, the more naturally we deliver it.
8. Last, but not least, don’t let the idea of “talking about your work” be motivated by the desire to “impress people.” Inform, yes. Impress, no. People will be impressed by the quality with which you do your job. Unnaturally big words and heavy thoughts don’t blow minds…they indicate a phony. Even in cases where your intentions are good, avoid the tendency to overcomplicate how to talk about your work or your ideas. Go the other way…clear, concise, and simple. In fact, it can never be too simple. Try it. It’s hard…but when you get it right, an audience relates to you and your thoughts more readily.
9. One of the things that I realized about giving artist talks/presentations is that I’m not doing all the work when verbally speaking to an audience. My images are, too. In fact, my images are not only filling in the gaps for me, but are also revealing thoughts and ideas where my words would fall short in having to explain anyway. Faster than I could explain, too. Our audience is human and, by nature, impressively capable to generate their own thoughts and observations of what’s presented before them by association. Between what I say and what they see, there’s a lot of information being received. In short, don’t feel like you have to overdo it as the messenger…
10. I would suggest a title slide to open your presentation. I would suggest a closing slide to end your presentation. Aside from giving kudos to all who worked on the film, a movie’s opening and closing credits cue the audience that “something is starting” and “now it’s done.” Think on how you might do that in your presentation in an appropriate, thoughtful, and tasteful way.