We only recently started doing “Village 101” informational presentations in public venues. Before then, all 20+ “parlor meetings”—-which is what we originally called them—-were held in our living room, which is a much warmer, cozier space than our neighborhood association’s community room or the meeting room in the local library.
People liked coming to our house and we liked having them. It felt more like having friends over for a cup of tea and a talk than a presentation. And since our living room can easily hold 15 people, crowd size wasn’t a problem.
Unfortunately, our house is not sufficiently accessible (yet) to function as a long-term presentation site. So convenient, low-cost accessible public spaces needed to be found. At the same time, we went from having one presenter—-me—-to recruiting and training five other members of the planning group to share the presentation load. So I not only had to give up the comforts of my living room, I also had to entrust MY presentation to five other people who each have their own delivery styles.
We started out working in teams of two, so no one had to handle an entire presentation by themselves. Not a bad idea, but not entirely successful either—-and figuring out how to divide up the material and who was going to say what was a challenge. Probably the most difficult for the new presenters was answering questions from the crowd. Most difficult for me was standing in the back of the room and keeping my mouth shut unless asked to speak. Not a role I am used to, but a critical one to learn.
We’ve done 5 public presentations so far and have scheduled another 8 over the next few months. Some of the presenters are ready to go “solo,” with just a helper in the back to greet and help pass out handouts. Others have decided to continue in teams. I don’t think that one way is better or more effective than the other, and the feedback we’ve gotten from attendees supports that.
What does matter is the cake. Good cake, homemade cake, cake made with love. Not store-bought cake or boxed cookies. Because when you start with cake, it’s almost like being in somebody’s home.
We learned this at our fourth public presentation. The first three times we presented, we offered a lovely assortment of several different kinds of high-end, store-bought cookies. We practically had to beg people to eat them. They added absolutely nothing to the presentation’s ambiance and made me sadder than ever that I couldn’t serve wine.
But the night of the fourth presentation, I realized I had forgotten to buy cookies. So I packed along an apple pecan sheet cake, which I had baked earlier that day. Since it was rather sticky, I cut and plated it before people came in, so all they had to do was pick-up a piece on the way to their seats. The result was magic.
Everyone ate cake; some people more than one piece. People asked if I had baked the cake and were happily surprised that I had. Some people asked for the recipe. Everyone smiled and looked content. It was a great way to start the presentation. It set just the right “village” tone.
This next round of presentations we’re adding Powerpoint slides and a short video to the mix. We think it will make it even more interesting. But no matter what technical improvements we make, we’re keeping the cake. Why mess with success?