On Presenting Things (in Zoom, with PowerPoint)


First you need to find a conference or some such event to sign up for - I chose the Gender and Musicianship -study days at the Sibelius Academy. Then you should come up with a swanky abstract. Mine was "Sex in Sonata Form", in which I promised to do feminist music analysis. (Truth be told my presentation was about genders in sonata form and it didn't include any sex. And was the analysis feminist? Weeeeeeeell... Kind of.)

Now open PowerPoint and choose one of the templates. This is where it gets tricky - do you want a plain, professional one; a fun one; a really pretty one; the possibilities are endless. Then you should choose the font, which can take days. You can also play around with how the things pop onto the screen one by one, and look, a month has flown by.

A wise person once told me that you should put six things in a slide, not more, and make them as short as possible. So basically very little text and a lot of pictures. Apparently you can also put private reminder notes there for your own benefit, but since I'm a PowerPoint rookie I didn't dare attempt it. I used just plain old paper for my notes.

While planning your PowerPoint I suggest you also plan what you're going to say - even though it's tempting just to mess around with the templates. I wanted to be one of those people who can just talk through stuff in a relaxed but thoroughly engaging manner, but sadly I'm not, so I had to write everything down.

For the talking, two tips: speak slowly, slower than you'd like, and pause every once in a while. I discovered that this is a thing to practice. Perhaps when you've done several presentations you learn how much you can say in twenty minutes, but I discovered that it's much, much less than I imagined. So timing matters if you want to say everything you've prepared.

One important thing about talking is that you actually have to pronounce all the words. I discovered this when I was rehearsing my speech in front of friends. French names of people, they're simply the worst. There's no way you can get them right, but you'll have to go down trying. I did consider referring to the person simply as 'this dude', but well. Writing is sooo much easier.

I also had some music excerpts in my presentation, and I recorded them in advance AND ADDED THEM TO THE POWERPOINT, which felt like pure magic, which makes me sound like I'm ninety-four or something, but anyway. Guys, when you record stuff on zoom, never delete anything from the recording device before all files are safe and sound on your computer too. My recording process was simply hilarious - one would think I'd never done that before, that's how professionally I went about it. First of all, I placed the device on the piano. Bad idea. It catches all the hammer noise, and of course I only realised this after half an hour's work. Then I moved it away a bit and did everything again. Here I thought I'd select the good takes and erase the rest from the device, so as to save time later. This, ladies and gentlemen, was a shit idea, especially at a point when all but one of the excerpts were done. In the process of selecting good ones, I accidently deleted all of the files. Hallelujah. I nearly cried, screamed a bit, and then recorded them all over again once more.

For the actual talk, do check your background - home is a private space for a reason. Of course you can use the cool background that makes everything muddled except your face. (One piano student of mine had that because his father insisted on privacy. Not so efficient with piano, though - it took me a long time to convince them that there is a point to me actually seeing the hands...)

In the end, all you can do is get on with the thing: get your slides up there and talk. And whatever happens, remember afterwards to just smile and wave, smile and wave, so no-one will see the trembling wreck you're inside.