Friday, February 03, 2006


Phew. Had to give a talk in the faculty colloquia series. This is a series of weekly talks by invited speakers and our own graduate students. The audience is mostly from our faculty. This sounds nice enough, familiar crowd and so on. Unfortunately, I'm in a "special" branch of the faculty that does very different things from the rest of the people. And there is not much communication in between the two "camps", since there aren't many commonalities: approaches, methods, backgrounds etc. are all very different. Typically for an academic institution, there's actually more or less open hostility between the two groups.

So I knew that it would be a tough crowd. There are a couple of professors of the "dark side" who take pride in their total ignorance of and contempt for the work we do. There's only one correct way to do research: theirs. Anyway, I like to provoke ignorant people and enjoy the challenge of being put to the spot. But it is very, very difficult to prepare a presentation that would be general and approachable enough so that the audience would get something from it, but also detailed enough to qualify as an academic talk. And my problem is, and will always be, the multidisciplinary framework: writing a catchy story is difficult, when you need to visit and revisit so many different starting points and theories.

I think I did reasonably well with the structure. There was a bit of repetition, and I forgot to mention one crucial thing, but other than that, it was all right. I started with a silly joke and ended with the picture I posted above.

But I am not happy about how the thing in between went. I was finished with preparing the presentation too late to have a proper run-through before the actual lecture, so I found myself babbling senselessly every now and then. A couple of times, the PowerPoint surprised me by bringing up a slide I didn't remember including... Also, I said things too vaguely and lost all the elegance and nice formulations of sentences I had in mind when preparing the talk.

On the other hand, surprisingly, I kept time very well. I usually run over. And I answered most questions well, which I knew I would do. Also, I have to say that apart from one demonstration of ignorance, the questions were pretty good.

But, as an overall grade, I'd have to give myself a low pass. I didn't want to write this entry yesterday, because I was too mad about the whole thing, and would have used my annual quota of curse words before finishing the first paragraph.

I got polite, positive feedback from people, but I can tell when the feedback is positive for politeness, and when it is genuine. And I hate, absolutely hate to "underwhelm" people. Many of my colleagues (both from "my" side of the faculty and the other) said beforehand that they were really looking forward to my talk, and I feel I disappointed them. But mostly, I disappointed myself, since I know I can do so much better. I didn't get the nice feeling of being in control of the crowd, and providing them with something they can relate to, but also surprises them and makes them see things in another light. I felt they left with having just listened to another talk, and not with a better understanding on how we do things on our side, and perhaps an idea of how they could use that n their work.

I think I had a bit of an attitude problem, I took this lecture as a "necessary evil" and left the preparation too late. The lack of rehearsal was an amateur mistake, and I'm not professional enough as a public speaker to compensate for lack of preparation.

But then again. I'm being very hard on myself here, as there were good things in it, and it wasn't a disaster or anything. It's just the discrepancy between expectations and delivery. I'm used to having it the other way around, delivering more than people expect, and now swinging to the other direction was not fun at all. But now the "necessary evil" is behind me, I survived it, and can go on with my work. And make a real killer of a presentation next time around.

1 comment:

mitluana said...

Olen subjektiivinen ja sanon tämän suomeksi, koska äidinkieli on aidompaa kuin tekovääntö englanniksi:
uskon, että osaat analysoida itseäsi, mutta uskon myös, että koska rima on niin korkealla, sinun luuseriuutesi, tai siis oletettu, ei ole monien muiden mittakaavassa epäonnistumista lainkaan. Tiedän tunteen ja voin kuvitella, että ottaa päähän, mutta eivät ne tiedä mitä sinun päässäsi on liikkunut, ts. jos ei mitään näkyvää katastrofia syntynyt, ei kukaan osaa verrata esitystä siihen, mitä olit mielessäsi suunnitellut.

Kaikilla meillä on huonoja päiviä, ja annan taas saman vanhan tutun ohjeen: mieti, mitä sanoisit minulle, jos olisin kirjoittanut ko. postauksen ja sano sama itsellesi. :)

Iso hal&teetä&sympatiaa!

ps. lähetänkö lisää rukiista?-)