Giving talks in the time of COVID

With the tenure decision seemingly right around the corner, I knew this would be an important year to give talks. I had even planned for a pre-tenure sabbatical to give me the freedom to travel for any talks. I already had plans to do a tour of Ohio and see most of the schools in NC….

Making the best of a bad situation, I’ve had the opportunity to give virtual versions of most of my talks. And thankfully, Zoom came through with a beta feature that has been fun and a bit more engaging. You can use your slides as a virtual background!

The virtual background feature uses software or a green screen to filter out the background and replaces it with a picture of your choosing. In this way, the slides become that background. You can switch slides by mashing the space bar or left/right just like usual, and you can resize and move yourself around the slides as appropriate. I really enjoyed it!

I specifically rebuilt my slides to give myself a small space in the lower righthand corner to sit and “face the audience.” Then the presentation starts, and I go to Share > Advanced > Slides as Virtual Background.

The pop up window in Zoom that allows you to select the Slides as Virtual Background option within the Share/Advanced tab.

I also opted for the green screen treatment instead of the software-enabled version. It was less likely to show unexpected glitches related to furniture that was behind me, especially as a moved and gestured. Additionally, Felix Carroll, fellow Chemistry professor here, shared two lamps with bulbs that replicate the spectrum of sunlight to help illuminate me in a more “natural” way.

A picture of my office with a green piece of fabric suspended on a bar behind me, creating a background for the camera that was filming me at my computer. there are also two lights on my desk shining light that replicates the spectrum of sunlight to make my appearance more "natural."

Here are some final shots of how that first talk looked. I’ve since done four of these kinds of talks, and it’s been very fun. If you’d like me to give a talk at your institution, please get in touch!

A person, making a goofy face, overlaid onto a slide that discusses how alternative energies can be integrated into the energy grid using storage.
A person, making a goofy face, overlaid on a slide discussing how a redox flow battery differs from a standard battery
A person, making a goofy face, overlaid on a slide featuring different molecular structures from a battery science chemistry program.
A person, making a goofy face, overlaid on a slide talking about the construction of the Tesla car's battery pack.

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