[Over the last few months, I’ve had the chance to talk about my new book in a number of settings, and as always every such talk has led to distinct and interesting follow-up questions and ideas. So this week I’ll reflect on those continuing conversations, leading up to a special July 4th weekend post on the state of patriotism in 2021!]
On the limits and benefits of virtual talks.
In my post on my August 2019 book talk for We the People at Peterborough (NH)’s wonderful Toadstool Bookshop, I wrote about one of my favorite parts of giving such talks: the particularly inspiring conversations that often take place before and after them. As usual when I highlight a prior post in my first paragraph, I’ll end here and ask you to check out that post if you would and then come on back for today’s thoughts.
Welcome back! My March 27th virtual book talk for Toadstool was my first opportunity to directly compare a virtual talk to an in-person one, and it was precisely the absence of these informal, pre- and post-talk conversations that I felt most distinctly. I did have the chance to chat for a few minutes before the talk with the wonderful Toadstool staff member (Katrina Feraco) who moderated the talk, and there were a couple excellent audience questions at the end of the talk. But both of those moments remained somewhat formal or at least somewhat part of the talk’s frame—whereas the truly informal, separate conversations I wrote about in that prior post can (it seems to me) only happen when I’m sitting in an in-person space like a bookstore, my book next to me, chatting about it with people outside of the context of the talk itself. I’m not sure those kinds of conversations can happen at a virtual talk, and I’ve missed them throughout this spring’s series of such talks.
At the same time, virtual book talks have their advantages, possibilities that make me hope some version of them (or at least a concurrent streaming option for in-person talks) can carry forward into a post-pandemic future. Many are similar to what I highlighted in this post on virtual conferences, around the general theme of accessibility; given that one of my audience members for the Toadstool virtual talk was a scholar and twitter friend of mine who lives in New York City, Joanna Mobley, I’m quite sure that accessibility was a good thing in this case. And if that’s a benefit for the audience (and thus for the speaker as well of course), I would also say that there’s at least one direct benefit to the speaker of preparing a virtual book talk—it really forces us to think about what and how our slides will communicate, to focus on them as a key component of the talk (rather than, for example, just visual accompaniment, which I’ll admit is how I used to think about the slides). That skill remains a work in progress for me, but it’s one I know has improved a good deal thanks to the series of virtual talks I’ve prepared and delivered for Of Thee I Sing.
Next book talk reflection tomorrow,
PS. Thoughts on this reflection? Ideas for other settings or audiences with whom I could share the book?