Mid November 2020 marks eight months since I started working from home because of the global coronavirus pandemic, and due to lockdowns and restrictions, a major part of my day job doing community education for CNIB, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, basically stopped.
In the early days of the pandemic, I approached schools and seniors’ homes about moving presentations I would normally do in-person, to a virtual format, but there was no uptake. A few teachers told me their focus was on teaching core subjects like Math, English and Science. They didn’t have time for presentations on sight loss.
Spring turned to summer, a time when requests for presentations typically slow down in a normal year, but 2020 has been anything but normal. In the summer months, I started getting requests to speak to groups on telephone conference calls and video conferences. Shifting from my usual presentations about sight loss, instead I was being asked to talk with groups of both adults and teens about my experience with writing and self-publishing, having just released my second book at the end of April this year.
In September, schools were back in session and I think many other places were starting to adapt to our current reality balanced with a need to get things done. One of my regular contacts, an instructor of nursing students at one of the universities in Calgary called and asked if I could do a session for her latest group of students. I told her we could do a session but that we’d have to forgo the tour of our office we normally did, plus we’d all be physically distanced in our multi-purpose room and wearing face coverings.
Chatting with the instructor beforehand, I told her I wasn’t sure how the presentation would go with me wearing a face covering because I tend to use a lot of facial expressions during my talks, which might not come across the same way. I was eager to give it a try though because I was excited to be doing an in-person presentation again.
Schools are starting to call again too. I did a presentation by video conference for two classes of elementary students and the teacher told me some of her colleagues will be calling me as well.
One of the really cool things that has come out of being able to do presentations virtually is the reach we can have to audiences all over without leaving home. This past week I did a talk for a group of teens with sight loss and on that call were kids from different parts of Alberta and as far away as Halifax, Nova Scotia. The next day, I gave a presentation for a group of health care students in Edmonton, Alberta, from the comfort of my home office in Calgary. Had I been booked for both of those sessions in person, that would’ve meant a lot of travel and rushing around. With places getting more accustomed to having virtual sessions, it’s making it easier to communicate with people in different places from the comfort of home.
Presenting virtually comes with challenges though, like the need for good internet connections, and the need for the various platforms to cooperate with us, because after all, technology is only good when it works.
I have found that presenting virtually comes with one other challenge, which took some getting used to, and that’s not being able to feel the energy of the audience. Very often, all participants on a video or phone conference call are muted, so for me as a speaker, I can’t hear their reactions to my stories, and if the connection is lost, it may not be obvious right away.
During the Q&A sessions of last week’s calls my concerns about not connecting with the audience were put to rest by some of the participants. On the call with the teens, one of the kids came on and told me that she knew I wasn’t able to hear the audience reaction and assured me that she was getting good laughs from my stories (which was good because they were meant to be funny). On the call with the health care students, many of them thanked me for sharing my stories of living with sight loss and when we concluded the session, just before I pressed the button to disconnect, I heard one of the students tell her instructor I was the best guest speaker she’d seen in her two semesters at the school.
I’m sure many speakers would agree that moving to virtual presentations took some adaptation. I’ve known for years, particularly after my sight loss, that I am able to adapt to whatever comes my way and the pandemic is just one more thing the universe has thrown our way, but adjustments have been made and I’m still moving forward, so bring on the next thing, because I’m ready.