Back in 2006, when I first started garden writing, I was invited to give a talk in Michigan. It was really exciting to get this kind of invitation so early in my writing career and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to talk to an audience that wasn’t composed primarily of students or academics.
Looking back at those talks…well…they weren’t particularly good. Sure, there was good information, but I wasn’t particularly comfortable giving talks at that stage and so I’m not sure I got my information across nearly as well as I should have.
After my talks there really wasn’t much to do besides listening to other speakers, and so that’s what I did. That’s where I got to listen to Jeff Ball, a garden writer and self-proclaimed yardener. I was amazed at how this guy filled the room with people who wanted to hear him speak and further amazed at how well he spoke. Being in academia I’m always surprised when someone speaks without visual aids – I had always idolized Michael Dirr, my former advisor and one of the greatest speakers I know, who always played off of his magnificent slides of plants. I really had never seen anyone give a talk without slides, or overheads, or powerpoint, or a chalkboard, before. But Jeff Ball did a talk right off the top of his head with nothing else, and he was magnificent. I remember not agreeing with everything he said (can’t remember what specifically), but more importantly, I remember how the tone of his voice and his wonderful sense of timing and rhythm kept the audience interested and engaged. After that day there were two speakers who I idolized, Mike Dirr and Jeff Ball.
Jeff Ball passed away this past week. It’s always sad when someone who you know and admire passes, but their passing also provides a time for you to think back on the good things which they did. I didn’t know Jeff well at all. Indeed, I never saw him speak again after that day. But his talk was inspirational and led me to really think about how I give a presentation, and for that I can’t thank Jeff enough.