February 26, 2020

Dan Jaffe's Home Run

I had a recurring dream through high school.  I would walk into my first class of the morning, sit down, and immediately be told ‘the test’ was about to start.  What test?  I haven’t studied for it!  Then I noticed my feet were cold because I wasn’t wearing shoes.  Oh, and I had forgotten to put on clothes.  And everyone was pointing and laughing.  I dealt with that nightmare by always verifying I had on clothing before I walked out the door.
For the past eight years, I’ve had a different kind of nightmare.  In this one, I walk into a room and everyone is waiting for me to talk.  Except I can’t find my computer with the program on it.  And my projector’s bulb has died.  And the cables to connect the two aren’t there.  And everyone is drumming their fingers, waiting for me to begin because I’m also half an hour late.  To prevent that nightmare from coming true, I approach every presentation with a set of preparations that Betty says has more checklist items than packing for a two-week vacation.
Dan Jaffe in his natural element
Last night, I accompanied Betty to a meeting of the Norwood Evening Garden Club where a terrific horticulturalist named Dan Jaffe was scheduled to hold forth on the subject of native plants.  Dan has a file-folder-full of programs with names like ‘Kill Your Lawn!’.  To his acolytes, it doesn’t matter which program he is doing because they’re all endlessly fascinating and jammed full of information encapsulated in humorous anecdotes.
Dan arrived a few minutes before 7 p.m. for a 7:30 presentation. 
Dan's book...
The venue was the meeting hall of a vintage-early-20th Century church and a screen was already in place.  As the club held its business meeting, I could sense an animated conversation going on in one corner.  Dan’s laptop computer was open, but I didn’t see a projector.  Several minutes later, a projector appeared.  His back was to me, but I sensed all was not well.  A second laptop appeared.  A member of the garden club with apparent technical skills began working with the second computer – probably her own – and two cell phones.  All I could see was a screen that kept saying ‘no internet connection available’.
The business meeting ended and all eyes fell on Dan.  He told the group, as the dragooned IT specialist’s fingers flew across the keyboard, “If this doesn’t work, we’re going to have one of the most interesting presentations I’ve ever been part of.”
For lack of a connector between the
old and the new....
As he said this, I saw the dreaded ‘no connection’ flash on the screen.  As I later learned, Dan thought the club was supplying a projector, and the club thought Dan was bringing his own.  Dan told me he usually keeps his projector in his car, but stops doing so during the dead of winter when sub-freezing temperatures are common.  The projector that showed up – from which good Samaritan, I never learned – was indeed a digital projector, but one not accepting input from a now-standard HDMI-format cable.  (Part of my ‘pack everything’ checklist is an octopus of a converter that bridges incompatible formats. I have never used it myself but once loaned it out for a state garden club convention.)
Dan could have responded in a number of ways.  He could have apologized and said the presentation would have to be rescheduled.  He could lay responsibility at the foot of the club (I have been in attendance at such a presentation).  But he did neither.  Instead, he asked his audience – somewhere between 35 and 40 people – to form a circle around him with their chairs.  And, for the next hour, he proceeded to give his presentation in the round, holding out his laptop for everyone to see photos of the plants as he discussed them.
The Norcross Wildlife Center
straddles Massachusetts
and Connecticut
The presentation was a wonder.  Dan – who is horticulturalist for the Norcross Wildlife Center, an 8,000 acre preserve in south central Massachusetts set up to protect and propagate native flora and fauna – knows native plants as few speakers do.  And, he speaks in a conversational manner that never intimidates. 
This talk, perhaps because it was unencumbered by having to talk to a large screen, was freewheeling, full of anecdotal asides, and incorporating far more interaction with the audience than in a ‘normal’ presentation (when questions are usually asked at the end).  Few speakers of my acquaintance – and I certainly do not number myself among them – can pull a rabbit out of a hat the way Dan did at that meeting. 
It was, in short, a home run.  A master class in how to turn adversity into an education for everyone attending.  Bravo!

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