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Discovering a New Level of Zoom Hell

Video conference on a laptop with enlarged speaker gesturing toward camera and others in gallery view.

For reasons discussed elsewhere, I didn’t go to college when I was young. In the spirit of “it’s never too late” and to beef up my speaking cred, I’m pursuing my AA at the junior college. On Wednesday, I needed to get serious about the 6-minute demo speech due in six days. The demo speech didn’t require research, but did need to include a Power Point presentation. I couldn’t think of anything I could confidently demonstrate, without research, via Zoom, besides computer stuff. How boring is that? What else could I demonstrate?

I’ve been a dancer all my life, but haven’t considered it a good career move since I was seven. After starting Sonoma County Dance Beat, I taught private and group swing dance lessons with my husband, Kevin, for years. But that’s in person. Maybe, if I included videos of me teaching on the slides, I could make it work.

What could go wrong? Did I mention it was due in six days?

Woman in sports bra gesturing toward laptop.

I’d be making my own instructional video, not just grabbing a video off the internet, so I needed to schedule a time when my busy musician husband could help me with my hitlist of videos and stills.  

It’s Friday and we’re in the living room with our dancing shoes on. I needed four videos of us dancing, each to a different genre of music, to demonstrate how versatile the dance is. I had the phone in the tripod, checked the angle, and went to cue the music for the country music video. That CD was in our 400-CD carousel player. The machine refused to move off of Paul McCartney. I get it. I like Sir Paul, too. But this was no time for tech shenanigans. Fortunately, Alexa came to the rescue with a classic country station.

Figuring I could trim the beginning and ends of the videos after the fact, like I’ve done on YouTube, I pressed the red button and got into position and we danced. Okay, so far so good. In about fifteen minutes, we had four short clips of us dancing and one of my feet, without music, demonstrating the footwork.

I also needed photos. Neither of us could do a selfie while demonstrating where our hands go for dance position. I looked again for the timer and, this time, I found it. Hurray! So, now I had the videos and the photos, and Kevin went back to his studio.

That’s when I discovered my new computer does not have video-editing software. I checked the old one, too. No dice. I should have figured out the timer in advance! 

All was not lost. I didn’t have to redo the videos, because I could edit them on my phone, and reupload them to the computer. Did you know that, on an iPhone, you can’t go back into an edited video and edit it further? It stubbornly only offers the “revert to original” command. I had to do trim both ends of every video and do it well in one go. That was brutal!

Because my study buddy only had late morning Saturday available for a run through, and I had to go dancing Friday night (there are still priorities), I had to whip the PP together by 11 am. Yikes!

Here’s what I know I didn’t know about Zoom and PP:

  1. When you’re signed into Zoom (which I usually am not for class), you are put into a Zoom Workspace that requires an added step to make your PP demonstration full screen. You have to choose “Use Slide Show.” Good to know for speech day. 
  • When you have a video embedded in a Power Point slide, you have to hit the arrow twice to have it play. But then if you hit the arrow again or the space bar to advance to the next slide, it will play the same video again, rather than going to the next slide. There must be a way to adjust this, but I had no time to figure it out. I decided to just click so fast no one would notice and call it good.  

I had to delete a bunch of stuff to keep it under six minutes. Finally, Sunday, I could start practicing the final version. Next, I needed to practice with game-day conditions. I zipped the PP presentation, uploaded it to my G drive, and went in the other room, to work on the old laptop I keep in there for videoconferencing.

Hard stop. The PP won’t open on the old lap top. I have no idea why and no time to troubleshoot. So, I grabbed the new, smaller laptop, from the living room.

woman making shushing gesture with finger

As I set it up, I was thinking about what Tuesday mornings look like at our house. Kevin will have our potentially crying 9-month-old grandson in the living room of our very small house—the living room that is separated from my sun room by the kitchen/dining room, but not a single door. I can’t use earbuds during my presentation, because several of the videos have audio. In order to be behind a door, I could have set up a whole new work station, just for one day, in my bedroom, but it’s still right off the living room with a door that’s mostly glass between us. Plus, that’s a lot furniture moving! The sunroom will have to do.

Back to practicing. I need to have a camera angle that will show my hand gestures. Because I’m talking about where your elbows go, I figured everyone needs to see down to my elbows. Propping the laptop up with books wasn’t enough. I needed more distance. If I moved the table back, it would block the entry. My big, swiveling easy chair was already butted against the heavy oak filing cabinet. If I swiveled to face the other direction, I’d be in silhouette, because of the curtainless window near my chair. I had to move furniture anyway! I swapped the (heavy!) easy chair for a dinette chair and set it further back. Perfect!

But now, how do I advance the slides from two feet away? I needed a mouse. I fetched the mouse and the laptop’s hub that connects it to my big monitor, and provides me a USB port for the mouse. (Don’t get me started hubs.) Ready now?

No. I can’t keep the mouse on my lap, without holding it, and I can’t hold it and still make hand gestures. I’m not going to wave a mouse around! Good grief!

TV tray to the rescue. I’m moving lots of furniture for a 6-minute speech. . . .

Since I had neither room nor inclination to also move the big monitor, I printed my notes. Where are they going to go, so I can glance at them and still maintain eye contact? I taped my intro notes to the back of the top of the lap top, so that they would stick up and face me, when it was open. The lampshade would provide support from behind. Since I had the mouse, blocking the keyboard wasn’t a problem, so I taped the conclusion across my track pad. Whew!

I still had all day Monday to spend practicing. Except  . . . my borrowed hot spot was due back to the library that very day. Until the local ISP installs fiber optics on our street, I’ve been borrowing hot spots from the library, for decent upload speeds for videoconferencing. It’s a really cool program, but you can’t renew them, and you can’t re-check the same one out again. The librarians helpfully check to see which branch has one available, when, invariably, they don’t have another to loan me. This time, that meant an 11-mile drive to another town to get one, which seriously dug into my practice time.  

I still had a little time that night, though. I ran through the whole thing several times, deleted more verbiage, more slides, practiced again, and declared myself ready.

It’s Tuesday morning. I’m all set up with kitchen chair, TV tray for mouse, notes taped to the laptop. I made a mental note to myself to remove the ear buds before my turn. I’m good. Oops. I’m also number 22 in the line-up and won’t be delivering my speech till Wednesday. Oy vey! I move the TV tray and scooch closer, so I can get to the keyboard for typing feedback for my fellow students in the chat.

Thirty minutes later, one classmate is still not present. The prof asked if anyone wanted to take her slot. Hell, yes! I’ll go. I wasn’t going to do all those furniture shenanigans again the next day!

I got an A+, by the way.