Monday, March 9, 2009

Friday Night Frights...

When introduced, the audience politely applauded. I off-handedly remarked, “Maybe I should quit while I’m ahead.” They laughed. I had no idea my comment would turn out so prophetic…

When the Astronomy Section of the Rochester Academy of Sciences officially endorsed, you can imagine my excitement. That excitement accelerated ten-fold when the 250+ member club invited me to talk at their March monthly meeting. Speaking in front of one of their generally well attended meetings would offer me a great start to get ideas, find volunteers and, overall, promote this IYA 2009 outreach project.

So I diligently created a fabulous multi-media presentation (me, my Powerpoint and the official web-site). The Powerpoint represented the focus of the presentation, so I made sure to chock it full of interesting nougats, snazzy animations and funny captions. I entered the RIT hall last Friday Night pumped to bedazzle.

Things started well. One thing I’ve learned as a speaker over the years: listen to your audience – before you actually speak! Fortunately, I wasn’t the first speaker at the meeting. This gave me an opportunity to hear the audience, sense their direction and quickly figure an appropriate humorous approach from which to launch my presentation. I came up with a homespun story (complete with the Down Eastern accent) about how things used to be.

“Times were kids used to get their astronomy from professionals – teachers, guest speakers and the occasional television news special. But then America caught the Apollo Effect, and people just didn’t care about astronomy anymore. Nowadays, kids have to learn their astronomy from the worst places – Hollywood, the Weather Channel, some even pick it up, of all places, on the streets. Heck, some of them don’t even know ‘ursa’ means ‘bear’ until they take Latin!”

That got a few giggles and framed the perfect intro to a presentation of the popularizing potential of this pet project. So I smoothly went into the first slide. Verbally segueing into the next slide like the trained professional I am (and used to be – I once hosted a very popular AM radio show), I pressed the next arrow on my computer to advance the slide.

Nothing happened.

Then I did something I usually never do when speaking in public – I panicked. I broke off from my script and allowed the failed technology to intrude. Of course, I had a plan B – a second computer. I quickly swapped the video cable to the back-up computer (which already had the Powerpoint running). The new unit’s screen quickly appeared through the projector. Relieved, I hit the button to advance the slide.

Again, nothing happened.

Momentarily distraught (I was really proud of those slides), I proceeded with Plans C (read from my pre-printed slide notes), D (show live examples on the web-site) and E (scroll through slides by hand in the Powerpoint editor). Still, the damage was done. I ended the presentation without asking for questions, although, thankfully, someone in the audience reminded me. I felt really bad.

But the next morning delighted me. I saw all these new nominations on and all these new followers on Twitter (@AstronomyTop100). The kindness of the club immediately washed away my sorrows. They listened. They appreciated. And of course, I do all the more.

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