Monday, July 8, 2013

What Can Go Wrong and Has While Giving a Talk

On this blog, I sometimes offer professional advice, which can range from tips on getting an academic job in business or engineering, to acing interviews, to building networks to giving a great academic talk.

The Female Science Professor has a great essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education on Talking the Talk. She is a long-time blogger who has kept her anonymity.

In her essay, she discusses the importance of knowing about the audience before you give your presentation (easy when you are teaching a class) and highlights some of the things that she has experienced during her presentations (outside of the classroom) from technology malfunctions to fire alarms going off to audience members getting ill to she, herself, feeling ill.

She also notes the effect of audience members (on her) who may not be paying attention.

Some of my most memorable speaking "disasters" have included:

1. Giving a talk at the Fogelman College of Business and Economics at the University of Memphis in 2008  at a breakfast for business folks which they had to pay for ($25) and the power went out over most of the campus -- yes, the scrambled eggs got cold. This means also that the projector did not work but people patiently waited for over 30 minutes  with me, the power went back on, and the show went on. Thanks for your patience and waiting!

Coincidentally, my presentation was on “Synergies and Vulnerabilities of Supply Chain Networks in a Global Economy!"

2. Spraining my ankle in NYC the evening before the EnergyForTomorrow Conference on April 25, 2013. After arriving on Amtrak, I trekked to the Times Square Hilton, where The New York Times folks had put me up at, unloaded my luggage, and then continued to explore the city that I love. I took a pitstop at the Plaza hotel, stepped down a stair, and felt a pain in my ankle. No problem, I thought, I needed my exercise, so I headed to the Apple store, the only one open 24/7 in the world, and then managed to make it back to my favorite Turkish restaurant on 57th Street. When I got up from dinner, I knew that I was in trouble. I hopped back to the Hilton and that night I literally crawled on hands and knees because the pain was so bad. I elevated my ankle and prayed. I had visions of me having to be carried to speak on the Transport and Traffic panel, which was moderated by Joe Nocera, and which was going to be videotaped.

The next morning, I used "mind over body" and told myself my ankle was fine and when I enterred The Times building there was an audience member on crutches and with her foot in a cast, who had broken her ankle the evening before stepping off a curb. I managed to gracefully walk on stage somehow (actually, I think that my heels helped) and the show went on.

3. Arriving with only 5 minutes to spare at an INFORMS Chapter presentation in Dallas, Texas at SMU, after numerous flight delays. The taxi driver was asking me for directions! This was one of ny favorite talk experiences ever since the audience was a terrific mix of practitioners and academics and students -- thanks!

4. Having the technology fail during the AAAS Symposium in Boston that I organized on Dynamics of Disasters and which took place on February 17, 2013. Apologies to my colleague, Professor David McLaughlin,  who was giving a brilliant talk on radars and tracking tornadoes, when this happened. Luckily, my husband was in the audience and marched to find some techs for assistance. The show went on and we did not lose any audience members -- thanks!

5. Giving a talk in St. Petersburg, Russia, at which there was a translator seated in a box. I started my presentation in Russian-- he freaked out and ran out of the room.

There are more -- feel free to share with me your "disaster" stories about giving a talk.

Let me leave you with the story of a job candidate in academia who was so nervous at his job talk presentation that he fainted. This was in NYC. The ambulance came -- he lived but, regretfully, did not get the job.