The other day in my (Ellen’s) Jazzercise class, the instructor suddenly had a problem to confront: One of the songs in her 60-minute set of routines had been suddenly sucked up into “the cloud” and would no longer play on her iPhone. What were her choices? Try for a sing-along? Do a lot of whistling? Just ignore it and soldier on? The last is of course what she did and nobody cared, because nobody ever cares if class gets out five minutes early. (What would she have done if her ENTIRE play list had gone up in smoke? Shudder.)
This got me thinking about how technology has changed over the years of my lifetime, bringing about a myriad of amazing tools to help us communicate better with each other. When I started Jazzercising in 1984, the instructors had to use 45RPM record players, changing each record manually as they taught the class. And they wore microphones with long cords that they had to whip around themselves as they demonstrated the dance routines. Then CD players came, and instructors could put their whole set (around 16 songs) on one CD. Then of course came iPods and iPhones (one touch of the screen and off we go) and remote microphones that required no special choreography to wear. All for the better. Unless the iPhone freezes, or the iPod dies. Or the microphone needs a new battery. There’s always something.
Now think about how technology has improved the lives of presenters (and also how it has created new headaches). When I was a kid, instructors used chalk boards to illustrate their lessons. The upside? An instructor could draw a picture or write key words to help the audience understand the point. The downsides? You get chalk all over yourself. The chalk breaks. The chalk is too small to use. There is no chalk in the room. Plan B?
Later in my life, instructors began using white boards. Same result as with chalk boards, but no messy dust on your hands (or shirt). Lots of colors to choose from and lots of different scents. (Anybody here remember the brown, chocolate-scented markers?) What could go wrong? Markers in the room are all dried out. There are no markers in the room. Someone has written on the white board with a permanent marker, which cannot be erased. Plan B?
Moving on, we next saw instructors (presenters, trainers, etc.) using overhead projectors and transparency sheets. Advantages: These could be prepared in advance, and could include lots of text as well as images. And be in color. Best of all, you could write on them with a non-permanent marking pen, allowing for lots of interaction between the presenter and the audience. What could go wrong? The projector bulb could burn out. Plan B?
Which brings us to today, where presenters have a slew of gizmos and gadgets to enhance their presentations, from PowerPoint to Prezi, from laptops to tablets, from remote slide advancers to laser pointers—all of which can add great value to a presentation and all of which can (and will) stop working at the worst time. Plan B?
Plan B, as always, is YOU. If you know you can get your point across, persuade your audience, teach a skill, or stoke an interest in a subject using only your own body and nothing else, then you will always have a presentation safety net to save you from a public speaking disaster. Unless you’re a Jazzercise instructor. Anyone reading this able to whistle top-40 tunes for 60 minutes?