Little did I know that the publication of Epic Tomatoes would bring about such a change to my life. This is the 4th year that the flip of the calendar means getting ready for a steady stream of workshops - some near, some distant. I could not be happier about my plight, and feel so fortunate for the opportunities.
I thought it may be interesting to some of you to share the details that go into one part of my post-corporate career. Let's treat it as a Q&A - a self interview!
Q - How do you get invited to an event?
A - There are three ways that this happens. (1) Once a year I look at my list of major arboretums and botanical gardens around the country, find a contact and send a "cold" email introducing myself and providing enough information for them to make a decision on my possible fit into their program. I've had pretty good success with this type of cold contact. (2) I am contacted by a host and asked to present - someone who knows of me, read my book, or has been in a previous audience and thought I would be a good fit. (3) a repeat appearance for an event that has gone well in the past.
Q - What happens next?
A - Lots of emails, that's what! An invitation starts a dialog that can go on for months - topics, terms, timings, program structure all get worked out and agreed through a series of emails and/or phone calls, and these can last right up until the event itself, as last minute details get ironed out. I like to get the event into my website calendar as soon as possible, and use Twitter and Facebook as well to promote what often end up being ways for hosts to get funds (through sales of tickets) to be able to do their good works.
Q - What is a non-local event like in terms of preparation?
A - As soon as things seem pretty firm, I like to get the air travel set - local transportation varies with the event, with some suggesting I rent a car, or use Uber or Lyft, or the event itself provides necessary transportation. There is a decision of Sue accompanying me - is the weather and timing and location appropriate for turning it into a mini-vacation? That varies a lot as well. Once the title and duration is set, I start drafting the presentation (which can change right up until the last minute - I do not like to give the same talk twice, so am always making changes and substituting new pictures, modifying the flow and the way that the key points are presented). Storey (my publisher) is happy to supply informational handouts, so I like to get an idea of audience size as soon as there is a good estimate; this also helps me determine how many packets of seeds to bring. As far as books, the host typically works with Storey to have a supply on hand for them to sell and me to sign. If it is not close enough to be local, but is easily reached by car, there is the possibility of
I try to keep my routine pretty similar in terms of packing just before heading out - laptop and charger, presentation on a flash drive, Square, chargers, slide advancer, pens, props to pass around (seed catalogs, a SSE yearbook), the seed packets, business cards, laptop to projector HDMI cord.
I also like to create an email to myself with all of the info I will need - contact names, emails and phone numbers, confirmation numbers, addresses and times - anything that will lead to an absence of last minute searching and fumbling about for info that I need!
Q - How is a local event different?
A - Everything is pretty much the same except I get to sleep in my own bed - but the various negotiations, planning and pre-event packing are the same. I love it when things vary - a distant trip followed up by a local drive. There is also a lot to be said for sharing gardening information with local audiences, meaning nearby friends can attend.
Q - What are the biggest challenges during and after the event?
A - It isn't really a challenge, but I like to get to the venue early and get things set up; ensure that the slides work, handouts and seed packets and business cards are on chairs, my phone is charged - and I actually get more relaxed if I can banter and chat a bit with the arriving audience before it is show time.
After the talk, the biggest challenge is always collecting my "trail of stuff" - anything I use for the presentation - flash drive, laptop, back pack, props, extra handouts and seeds and cards - because I typically get whisked to a table to sign and/or sell books. It seems like the hour after the end of the talk is a blur of lovely conversations, learning lots of names, answering more questions - but then making sure I've collected everything I've brought. When Sue accompanies me, she is superb at following along and doing this; when I am alone I am much more prone to leave bits of myself everywhere.
Q - What does it feel like - both during the event, and after you are back in your room, or at home?
A - There is certainly a build up prior to a lecture or workshop - I've gotten much better about managing the butterflies in the time leading up to the event. Each is quite different, though - the size and layout of the room, size of the audience and proximity, size and clarity of slide presentation and room acoustics, time of day all add to the variety and provide an element of the unknown that keeps things fresh.
Afterward, there is always a bit of a letdown. Giving a talk takes energy, but the audience gives it back and more. It takes some time to reach emotional equilibrium again. A plot of energy and emotion throughout the speaking season would look like a sine wave, with ups and downs. I've found that the "highs" remain the same - I enjoy this experience no less than I did when I began - but I've managed the "lows" much better.
A few other things I enjoy doing....receiving cherished family heirlooms at events (something that's happened quite a few times), keeping thoughts in a journal (a practice I began as soon as Epic Tomatoes came out and I wanted to capture what it would all be like)....and, when I am traveling to events...coming home!