Saturday, June 21, 2014

Sometimes Powerpoint is A Good Thing

I remember the first major oral report I ever had to give, in the 9th grade. I'd picked a sexy topic (literally, not sure what I was thinking, wasn't really appropriate for an Alabama History class in the Deep South...hmmm, is that a "know your audience" kinda thing?), memorized it and proceeded to deliver it to the class for five straight minutes with my eyes closed. People asked me if I'd written the speech on the inside of my eyelids. I got an A despite everything. It was the day the person I thought was my going-steady boyfriend informed the  class at large that his family was moving to Florida the very next week...he never told ME and in fact, I don't think we ever exchanged two words ever again. (Lest you think me a stalker or something, he and I had attended every junior high dance together till that point, he would invite me...ok, but we digress.)

Flash forward a few years,ok quite a few years, to my day job, where I was asked to present a class on my particular contracting specialty. Sensing that I couldn't get away with giving the material with my eyes closed for four hours, a la my 9th grade experience, I was thrilled to discover Powerpoint. It was like giant index cards on the wall and if I lost my place or forgot what I wanted to say, there it was, larger than lifesize! My life was so saved.

Through the years I've given a lot of classes and workshops and talks, with and without the benefit of Powerpoint slides. Thinking of the subject matter in term of doing slides always helps me, I've found. And then I practice them and practice them until I have the talk down cold.

The most difficult presentation I ever had to give was my mother's eulogy. While I was in northern Alabama dealing with funeral arrangements and other matters, I made notes on what points my brother and I would want to share, what things my mother might have wanted to have said and what things her friends in the small community would want to remember or be comforted by. I organized it as if there were going to be Powerpoints, although of course there wouldn't be. In the simple church there would be a photo of her and nothing else, no fancy video montages or other visual aids.

And me in front of the gathering, many of whom I did not know.

I had to get through it without crying because once I start, it ain't pretty and it doesn't stop easily.

I have the notes in my scrapbook but I remember the opening was her favorite Bible story, which was that of Ruth, and then I segued to the things she shared with all of us in the church that day - love of books, of birds, of walks in the woods, of helping friends, of movie musicals and circled back around to her faith and her service in the community's volunteer choir, which used to sing the beautiful old hymns for funerals all over rural northern Alabama, until the members became too infirm themselves. Three of those wonderful elderly ladies had volunteered to sing my mother's favorite hymn to close the service, while a fourth played the organ. My last "slide" in my mental Powerpoint deck was to introduce them before going to sit with my brother, who was too emotional that day to speak.

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