Friday, March 15, 2013
Challenges and Rewards of Presenting Your Work to an Audience by Shelly Hehenberger
Despite the February snowflakes falling calmly outside the window, I can feel myself starting to feel hot in my clothes. My heart is beating too fast, my head begins to ache slightly, and my feet turn to ice. I am amazed by how I felt so calm just a few minutes before. This is it, I think, the day I have been both dreading and looking forward to for months. It’s the moment when I will stand up before a room full of other artists and a few art directors at the Green Hill Center for NC Art in Greensboro, and talk for seven minutes about my work. My artwork is not there, however, but instead a PowerPoint slideshow of my images racing by at 20 seconds each. Is it my worst nightmare or a dream come true? If you are an artist, you probably know that it is a little of both.
Last fall, when I first heard of this opportunity to speak at Green Hill Center with 59 other abstract artists from across NC, I felt immediately that I should apply. The thought was exciting at first, but then I began to wonder if I was ready for the experience. “My work is in transition,” I told myself, “I won’t know what to say about the new work I have been doing!” With these and many other thoughts whirling through my mind, I began to record in my journal thoughts about this new work. By writing and thinking deliberately on paper, I was able to form concrete ideas that would become the basis of what I would say in my presentation. This is, of course, one of the great benefits of speaking. It forces us to know our own work on a deeper level. It also gives us the chance to bounce ideas off other ears, which we all need.
Upon arriving at Green Hill at 9am on Saturday the 16th, I was happy to meet both Martha Petty and Warren Hicks, two fellow OCAG members. I was relived to have them there and comforted by the thought that I had a friend or two in the audience, however new they be. Soon, the presentations began. I was prepared with my notes written on large index cards, but then the assistant running the projector had technical difficulty with the computer displaying our presentations. Halfway through several presentations, the 20 second timer inexplicably stopped working, requiring manual advancement of the slides. Because of this, the slides advanced too quickly, and I lost my place in the carefully worded cards. I then had to “wing” the rest of my presentation. So what do you think: my worst nightmare or a dream come true? Once again, I have to say a little of both.
I was forced to put my prepared statements aside, but in the process, I was also forced to look at my audience and say what I really needed to say. And, I said it in a way that was more informal and hopefully more effective in the long run. Sure, I didn’t have the time to make some of my more finely crafted points, but I did hear some interesting statements about my process leap spontaneously out of my mouth. Just as it happened with the journalling I did to prepare, this act of having to suddenly speak off the cuff shed new light upon aspects of my work I had not considered as closely as I do now.
After my presentation was over, I felt elated as I often do after an intense learning experience. Regardless of the outcome I had braved the dangers, and I felt content.
The moral of this story as you might have guessed is: It’s all good. Who can say how we will deal with the sticky challenges of presenting our work to any audience? We might fear we will go blank or turn bright red, and these things could happen. But in the end, getting the work out there is what matters. Letting other eyes see what we are doing helps us to better understand ourselves.
I want to say thank you to Green Hill Center for doing this NC Artist Outreach Program despite the difficulties. I appreciate what they are doing to help NC artists be more visible.
Here are the some comments from my fellow OCAG participants:
“It was a great opportunity to meet and learn more about artists from across the state. The competition is scary out there. There are too many gifted artists to compete with. But getting a chance to present my work to my peer was a great honor. The next time I’m asked to give a presentation of my work. I’ll be much better prepared because of this invaluable experience.”
“Participating in Green Hill’s NC Outreach Project was a good experience for me, even though I was very nervous speaking in front of a group of people; I could feel my heart pounding. I really enjoyed seeing the works so many talented artists and hearing what they had to say about their work. This gave me a real appreciation for the extent of the creative community in North Carolina.”