Being a tour guide at the Historical Society gives you a unique set of conversational skills.
In essence, like all educators, I have been something resembling a professional public speaker for over a decade. It involves having to speak to groups of all sizes, ages, levels of education, and proficiency in English. On a busy day, a guide might have to teach the same subject matter to a class of third graders, a family of tourists from Germany, and a group of college professors. Inside, outside, microphone or no, walking or standing still, a single person or a hundred - it’s hard to be fazed after having dealt with so many variables for so long.
Zoom threw me for a loop.
When the world came to a screeching halt in mid-March, we had a wide roster of events on the horizon. Spring is the busiest time of year for the Historical Society: in addition to the usual lectures and book club meetings, several large fundraisers were in the middle of planning, and Patriots’ Day was on the horizon. We scrambled to find ways to reschedule or reimagine these events on new platforms.
Before long, we, along with the rest, began the awkward process of learning the art of video conferencing for people other than far-away relatives. Corners of strategically placed books were cultivated. Laptops were elevated at precise angles. We purchased a setup for webinars – a function that ensures that all eyes are on the speaker, as the audience’s cameras are deactivated.
Looking into the void can be terrifying. When you hit the broadcast button and the number of viewers begins rising at the bottom of the screen, there is always a terrifying moment where you nearly forget how to function as a human being. There is no simple way of knowing if things are operating properly, if people can see and hear you. All you have is a tiny camera lens to focus on, while trying not to look at your own moving image underneath it. Stage fright makes you hyper-aware of your every move; can you imagine compounding that with being able to actually see your every move in real time as well?
As it turns out, speaking into the void has a learning curve like any other. Lessons get learned and life moves on. I have been so pleased with everyone’s ability to pivot and reimagine how a public program can be run. The world has weathered audio and visual issues, zoom-bombing, and more, but the continued interest in coming together to learn about history has been heartening. Even when we are apart, there is an intrinsic need to feel a part of a community, to interact, and to learn together. Our programs so far have allowed us to have wonderful discussions with people from all over the country and the world, and to hear from speakers up to 97 years old.
This new world brings many challenges, but we will persevere. With each new challenge comes a host of new opportunities as well, for people to connect with and learn from each other.
And, so far, no one has yet become a potato by mistake. It’s the small things in life that matter most.
-Sarah McDonough, Programs Manager
Featuring the voices of Lexington Historical Society permanent staff and occasional guest authors.