Zoom Presentations

A Recipe, From My Experience

cl raving about plantsBy C.L. Fornari

When the pandemic hit, I needed a way keep the garden center where I work connected with our customers. I wanted to be sure that whether the nursery could remain open or not, we would keep people excited about plants and gardens.  As a speaker, I also saw that the presentations that were booked for the spring and summer would need to be done virtually. And finally, I am still promoting my latest book and since book signings needed to be canceled, I needed a way to hold virtual book groups and promotional talks for Sand and Soil.

This led me to do a deep dive into the Zoom software, and I quickly learned to fly by the seat of my pants as I presented events for my IGC, book discussions, and talks to garden clubs. Here is my advice to those who are looking to do the same.

  • Investigate the various options for Zoom plans based on whether you want to record your presentations and the anticipated size of your audiences. Note that the free version doesn’t give you the option to record your talks.
  • My first mistake was in making my first IGC event a meeting instead of a webinar. Zoom meetings are limited to 200 people and, holy mugwort!, my first call had 250 people wanting to join in. We had 50 very unhappy customers who couldn’t take part.
  • Make sure your computer has the privacy settings to allow for Zoom to share the screen and your microphone.
  • Set up your event so that attendees can’t enter before you do, and so that they are muted on entry. If you don’t do this, you’ll be surprised at the number of people who don’t understand how to mute themselves. All of the background noise from those attendees will be distracting to others.
  • If you’re presenting solo (without panel members or a moderator) limit attendees’ questions to the “Chat” feature. Tell them at the beginning how to see the speech bubble at the bottom that opens the chat window. Explain that if they find the stream of chat distracting, they can click on that bubble again and the window will disappear.
  • Turn off the Q&A feature in advance so you won’t be distracted by those who ignore chat and put questions there. Turn off the ability for attendees to raise their hands as well. This helps to keep your multi-tasking to a minimum.
  • When setting up a webinar, click the box that enables a practice session. This allows you to open up the link in advance without recording or allowing attendees to access the meeting before you’re ready. You can open the link, check your settings, and even practice screen sharing one last time before starting the actual broadcast.
  • Click on the speech bubble to open your window for viewing chat before you launch the meeting. Then you won’t have to think about it later.
  • If you’re going to publicize the meeting link in public places, be sure to require registration and the use of a password. This will help prevent troublemakers from crashing the meeting. Even with a password it’s good to only send the link for registration to the members of the group you’ll be addressing. (The links for each garden center cocktail hour are sent out in our newsletter the day before the event. This has the added benefit of building our mailing list. I also make a new link for each garden club event and those are only sent to the program chair a week before the presentation.)
  • Practice! You can set up a false webinar or meeting, and log onto it as if you’re giving a real presentation. Use this time to explore all the options for attendee controls, testing sound and sharing your screen. Record your practice session so you can go back and review it. Those practices and the recordings are worth the time you will spend to create them. Be sure to practice from beginning to end, as if you’re actually giving your virtual talk. You’ll become comfortable with sharing your screen, and with stopping that sharing to move on to questions.
  • When you set up a webinar in advance, check the box that says “automatically record.” Then you don’t have to remember to press record once the event starts.
  • Log on one or two minutes before the event is due to start. If you log on earlier and start the meeting (taking it out of practice mode) you’ll be recording your image poking around, and wasting time. This is fine if you don’t want to use the recording unedited in the future, but if you want to use the link for others to view, they’ll have to sit through your pre-presentation fumbling before getting to the content.
  • Although you can use your normal PowerPoint or Keynote presentations, you might want to alter them to one image per slide. You’ll want to remember that unlike in an in-person presentation, you’re competing with everything else that’s going on in the attendee’s environment, so simpler and more engaging images work better. I’ve always been a follower of Seth Godin’s “only six words per slide” advice, and with Zoom presentations this is even more important. Remember that some are viewing your talk on a tablet or even a phone, and small images and text won’t be legible.
  • If you have text, place it to the LEFT of a photo, not to the right. Place any text that’s on a photo on the left as well. This is because the image of the speaker or panel members appears on the right in Zoom and those may partially cover any text that’s in that area.
  • Position your laptop or computer camera so that it’s slightly above you. Some PC’s have the camera at the bottom of the display (???) so if you have that type of computer you should be sure to place it higher so that the world isn’t looking up your nostrils. Make sure your image pretty much fills the screen; if you see more wall behind you than face, move closer. Your audience won’t be able to see your expressions once you start your presentation unless your head and shoulders fill the screen.
  • Be sure that a light is above and in front of you. A light just above your face level and at a 45-degree angle is also good. Do not have a window or bright lights behind you because that throws your face into shadow.
  • Look at your camera, not at your image on the screen. Find where your camera is and look at that, since that is how you’ll be making “eye contact” with your audience.
  • Be enthusiastic. Amp up your voice a bit, and make sure your audience can hear how enthusiastic you are. Smile at the camera, even when you’re going through your slides or other visuals.
  • Many find a microphone to be useful. If there aren’t panel members who are speaking along with you, headphones aren’t needed. But if others will be unmuted, headphones prevent their voices from being picked up by your computer or microphone and echoed back into the conversation.

Final thoughts and suggestions:

  • Be sure to list your availability for virtual presentations on your website. As soon as I did that I started getting requests from garden clubs all over the country who needed virtual speakers.
  • Decide ahead of time if you’ll make the presentation recordings available to those who hire you. I decided that I would not, since once I send that link out I have no control over who or how many people access it. I tell my audiences that a virtual presentation is like a live talk: it’s a “you have to be there experience.” However, when I’m presenting a special talk that is crafted for a particular event having it recorded may be a part of the agreement. Just know that those who hire you will want to know if recordings are available.
  • Consider joining a GardenComm Power Circle about Zoom presentations. If you’re interested, email me and I’ll start putting members in touch with each other for this purpose. My contact information is in the GardenComm Membership Directory.

Meet the Author

C.L. Fornari is a plant geek who is dedicated to putting horticulture back into popular culture. To that end, she speaks, writes, broadcasts and podcasts about plants and gardening. Her website is: www.GardenLady.com


From the United Nations to Your Own Community

By Cris Blackstone

The UN General Assembly recently adopted seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With the pandemic foisting a new lifestyle on many people, and gardening taking more prominence as evidenced by increased sales at garden centers nationwide, many of these seventeen goals have garnered more focus than ever before.

Goal 1 is “No Poverty” and from there, the other sixteen goals cascade with equal importance. Many of these goals may resonate with gardeners including permaculture, improving physical, mental, and emotional health through gardening, growing food, revitalizing communities, etc. The list goes on and on. No matter where your garden avocation leads you, strong partnerships with neighbors, municipalities, media sources, and regional governments each contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

As Garden Communicators, we know the most up-to-date information coupled with the most accurate historical research and evidence is important. Taking the UN Sustainable Goals as a blueprint for what we hope to accomplish is a topic GardenComm’s Sustainability Committee members discuss and hope to share and promote through our individual work as authors, artists, and presenters. It can feel like a big leap from the worldwide perspective presented through the United Nations, to our own efficacy locally, but remember the popular bumper sticker, “Think Globally, Act Locally.”

One way to learn more and react to more local information is to learn from the Agriculture Commissions many states have instituted for individual municipalities. State Ag Commissions are heavily involved with specific SDGs such as goal no. 9 relating to “Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.” Soil is the ultimate infrastructure. State Ag Commissions and Conservation Districts know all too well the importance of no-till practices, cover cropping, preserving topsoil, caring for microbes beneath the surface for plant health, and avoiding erosion. These are all topics we consider as garden communicators, and see in print and hear in podcasts frequently.

Agriculture Commissions are also now growing in popularity in many communities, using many of the SDGs as their driving objectives. Massachusetts, Washington State, and California are pioneers in establishing local ag commissions.

From activities such as Victory Gardens 2.0 promoted by the National Garden Bureau to edible front lawns, agriculture commissions are a good source for garden communicators to learn from and reference. Agriculture Commissions in my home state, New Hampshire, are particularly creative and involved with both outreach and education. The Durham NH Ag Commission, for instance, promotes the Edible Front Lawn initiative. Citizens are encouraged to plant their front lawn with edibles – vegetables are grown in place of traditional lawns, sometimes in raised beds and sometimes simply where the grass was. Signs in each lawn state the fact that it’s an Edible Front Lawn, and tours are offered during years when the town holds Farm Days, including the neighborhoods where these edible front lawns are prevalent. The Durham Ag Commission also helped sponsor a winter-long e-mail course for people to learn about soil testing, site evaluation, locating perfect plants to use, and even fermenting techniques to use what was grown in new ways. Lee, NH, has another very active and vibrant Ag Commission. They sponsor a lecture series featuring expert presentations on soils, pollinators, and vegetables, honey, and edible flowers, which includes a nutritionist’s perspective as a part of a panel discussion. Ag Commissions across NH are encouraging towns to join the national Bee City USA program, and create awareness through presentations, posters and local television programming.

The GardenComm Sustainability Commmittee encourages you to become familiar with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and consider researching your city, state, or regional Agriculture Commissions to see what valuable information is available there, as you Think Globally, Act Locally, to do your part to help bring awareness to these current topics.

Meet the Author

Cris Blackstone is the Education Coordinator for the New Hampshire Landscape Association, a Certified NH Landscaper, University of NH Natural Resources Steward, and Master Gardener. She co-hosts “The Environmental Hour,” once-monthly radio show in seacoast NH/Maine. She serves on municipal, county and statewide Conservation Commissions or Districts and is a frequent workshop presenter or facilitator on topics from herbs to indoor plant care. Her photography work includes juried events and accompanies many of her freelance articles.CB