Monday, April 29, 2013

Show and Tell, The Gateway Drug

Sometimes, I have to stop the evil side of my brain from taking over. The other night, my seven-year-old daughter was scrambling around trying to find something that she could bring to school for Show and Tell. 
     You see, there was this one time, when she brought a plastic helmet she had worn while exploring a cave. From all reports, she did a fine job showing and telling what the helmet was used for. She even learned a new word. Spelunking, after all, sounds much more exotic than caving. Her fellow second-graders, though, while attentive, had little to add to the presentation.
     But then there was that other time, when she brought her hamster to show and tell about. (Actually, her mom brought in the hamster, fearing that transport by the child might be problematic.)  The hamster, from a second-graders viewpoint, was super cool. Who needs a boring old helmet when you can see a real, live rodent? It was such a major hit that Mom nearly had to bulldoze the little tykes out of the way to get it back home.
     But as musicians, filmmakers and writers throughout history have found, having a major hit only puts pressure on you to come up with another hit. Hence, the stress over what could top the hamster. I wanted to tell her that nothing else she had would top the previous show and tell, but that seemed harsh. Mom solved the issue by decreeing that other kids in her class could step up to the plate and that our daughter would not be taking anything to that day's Show and Tell.
      It got me to thinking that Show and Tell is simply the school system's way of getting you comfortable with standing up in front of a crowd and talking. It will inevitably lead to the Book Report, which is far less entertaining than Show and Tell. Then, there's the What I Did On My Summer Vacation speech, even lower on the entertainment scale. And, ultimately, as adults, we find ourselves sitting through the coma-inducing Power Point presentation on Sales Goals for the Quarter.
     Has anyone ever sat through a Power Point that they wanted to see again?  I once had the misfortune to be trapped in a small room with a man who followed up the mandatory opening joke by putting up a Power Point slide and then reading the text of that slide. Those of us in the room already had a printout of the presentation, so we could read along, which begs the question of why, exactly, does this guy need an overhead projector?
     When I was in school, (said the grumpy old man) we didn't have anyone plugging a computer into the wall to lead us toward glassy-eyed indifference. We had film strips that went beep. And, as the saying goes, we liked it.
      Preachers, teachers, sales managers and many, many others have bored me over the years, but it's not something you can easily talk to them about.  Saying, "Wow, I found your speech incredibly dull!" would, I presume, result in one of those awkward silences you read about. And, in fact, it's partly my own fault. I am easily bored. But it wouldn't hurt those public speakers to bring a hamster along every now and then.