Preparing for the Worst: Garden Speaking Without Audio-Visuals

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By Kathy Jentz

It was a dark and stormy night. Well, the storms hadn’t started yet when I began my talk. I was speaking to the Anacostia Watershed Society in their historic headquarters in Bladensburg, MD, a former tavern that was a favorite spot of George Washington’s. Anticipating a fun evening with fellow gardeners, I set up my laptop and projector in the upstairs meeting room. Everything started off smoothly, when all of a sudden a tremendous wind blew in and all the windows slammed shut with a bang. The power went out and we were plunged into darkness. I was only a quarter-way through my slide show describing local native plant choices. Now what?

Luckily, my laptop battery was fully charged. I was able to turn the small screen around and invite the group to gather round and see the plant photos while I completed my talk. But what if it hadn’t been charged? Would I have been able to continue on without it?

From that day forward, I promised myself to always be prepared to give any talk with or without audio-visual assistance. That vow has been a lifesaver in the years to come when I found myself in situations that ranged from challenging to sublimely ridiculous. I once was assured that a garden club’s host had a projection screen in her home, only to arrive and find that not only was there no screen, there was also not one blank wall available. I ended up giving the talk projected onto the surface of a large brass serving tray.

If you speak enough, you will have many similar stories to share. I hope I can spare you some of the angst and troubles I have encountered by sharing some of my tips for being prepared for all speaking emergencies:

  • Have back-ups. Even if the host assures you they have all the equipment, bring your own laptop and projector along with extra cords. Have your talk saved to a USB-stick in addition to the copy on your hard drive.
  • Print out your PowerPoint slide list and notes. Always have one set in your bag that you can refer to should your display fail.
  • Use handouts. I personally like to send my handouts via email after my talks as that is more “green” (kills fewer trees) and it gives me an excuse to collect all the attendee’s emails. However I also keep a few printed handouts in my bag just in case there is an audio-visual emergency and the audience needs something to refer to during my talk.
  • Use props. I give a talk on garden tool selection and maintenance that is purely me talking and doing show-and-tell. I use the same strategy with my talk on basic flower arranging. There are many times when you are much better off doing a live demonstration rather than using a PowerPoint slide show. Always, have one or two of these talks prepared and ready to go as a substitute talk

Murphy’s Law – anything that can go wrong will go wrong – may have originated in the engineering world but it is just as valid for the garden speaker’s world. Be prepared and you’ll be able to keep Murphy’s Law at bay.

Have I left out any of your favorite speaker preparation tips? Please share them in the comments field below.

Meet the Author

Headshot - Jentz, KathyKathy Jentz is editor of Washington Gardener Magazine and a long-time DC-area gardening enthusiast.  To book her for a garden talk, learn more here.

She also edits the IWGS Water Garden Journal and is a columnist and guest blogger for several other publications. Her latest foray is as the social media voice for horticultural nonprofits such as

Author: GardenComm

GardenComm, formerly known as GWA: the Association for Garden Communicators, provides leadership and opportunities for education, recognition, career development and a forum for diverse interactions for professionals in the field of gardening communication. GardenComm members includes book authors, bloggers, staff editors, syndicated columnists, free-lance writers, photographers, speakers, landscape designers, television and radio personalities, consultants, publishers, extension service agents and more. No other organization in the industry has as much contact with the buying public as GardenComm members.

4 thoughts on “Preparing for the Worst: Garden Speaking Without Audio-Visuals”

  1. Excellent advice. I did a presentation to food bloggers with much the same information plus some tips on speaking in public (there are folks who would rather be run over by a train than speak in public). Speak to the back of the room – use your “Big Girl” voice. Look your audience in the eye and smile. Know that every one of them wants you to succeed and that in all likelihood, YOU are the expert and they are here to learn from you. Thanks, Kathy!


  2. I was giving a presentation to about 200 peopl and the color of the projector (not mine) was completely off, so I did as you did and turned the laptop around so they could at least see the colors. I don’t have my own projector, but perhaps that is some great advice. Surprisingly we didn’t get a lot of complaints – it was near the end of winter and everyone was desperate for gardening talk!


  3. Kathy, great advice! With close to a thousand talks, presentations, and workshops, and 35,000 attendees in sixteen years, I could tell you horror stories. The key is being prepared. Preparation will keep your stress and the audience’s stress levels to a minimum. Have an “unexpected kit” in your car. This kit can be in a tote bag or unassuming box (to prevent theft) and should include: extra batteries (for mouse, pointer, microphone), extra light bulb for your LCD projector, flash drive with your program on it, in case your laptop won’t work, multiple outlet extension cord, and a thin, black drop cloth or drape (no need for hems or sewing) for hanging on windows with too much sunlight. With your kit, you’re almost prepared for any situation. You can also purchase inexpensively a table top projection screen that is collapsible and easy to carry, like the Epson ES 1000 Ultra Portable Projection Screen. for $99.

    Another tip is to practice your program without the slides to see where you need to fill in with “extra descriptive phrases”. By going through it with a script and not seeing the visuals will help you be comfortable speaking without the slides. Hopefully you will never have to, but being prepared will keep you calm, and joking about it will help your audience feel comfortable as well. Some of my best talks were off the cuff when unexpected events happened and I had to rely on my experiences and wit.


  4. Props, props, props! Yes, whenever I do a presentation, have something people can hold and touch. Makes it much more interesting. Also, freebies, such as packets of seeds or I always hand out big buttons with my blog printed on it.


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