Friday, May 28, 2004

the continued oratorical misadventures of jeremy freese

Background: The International Association of Social Science Information Service & Technology (IASSIST) has been having their annual conference this week in Madison. This is the main professional organization for persons who work as social science data librarians and related jobs. I was asked to be one of three speakers at a plenary session this morning at 9AM. (The session was titled "Data in Dairyland"; it was about some of the major data collection projects centered here at UW; I was supposed to talk about the WLS.)

Yesterday afternoon: I exchanged e-mails with the organizer of the session yesterday and agreed to meet her in front of the building hosting the conference between 8:30 and 8:40.

Late last night, early this morning: As I have mentioned in this weblog from time to time, sleep is the bane of my existence. I have trouble falling asleep and trouble staying asleep. I am not one of those energetic dynamos that "just needs less sleep than other people": I need every bit as much sleep as the average person, I just usually don't get it. When I set an alarm, I hardly ever end up using it because I almost always wake up before it goes off. So, anyway, last night I ended up being awake until past 3AM working on this Stata program to process responses for this one part of the survey (I may write a post about this program later). I set my alarm for 7:15, which, especially since I would likely be awake sooner seemed like it should give me plenty of time to get ready and get up to campus.

This morning, 8:35 AM: This was the time when I opened my eyes and looked at the clock this morning. Apparently I slept through my alarm. Note that it would normally take me 15 minutes to drive to campus and then walk to the building where I needed to be.

8:36 AM: I panic. I realize I don't even have the cel phone number of the person I was supposed to meet. I quickly ponder the question of whether leaving the organizer standing in front of the building puts me more in the category of "disorganized loser" or "inconsiderate jerk." I try to envision whether I have ever been to a plenary session at a conference where one of the speaker showed up late without telling anyone beforehand. I consider how oversleeping becomes increasingly lame and wow-you-are-an-unreliable-mess excuse for anything, much less a plenary talk, after about one's sophomore year of college. Since I was giving the talk because a senior colleague who had earlier agreed to do it had a scheduling conflict (Bob Hauser, for those who know my department), I imagine how I would tell him later about how I overslept and showed up late and disheveled for this talk I was doing on his behalf. I envision the TradeSports market-estimated probability of me getting tenure careening toward zero.

8:37 AM: Then, my normally meandering mind focuses remarkably incisively on the question of what is absolutely essential for me to do in order to be able to give a non-disgracing talk. No time to shower. So, first: Pants. A nice-enough long-sleeved shirt with buttons. (I realize then that a good deal of the shirts I wear for teaching are still at Klinke's, where they have been utterly forgotten about since finals week). A jacket--you can get away with a slightly wrinkly shirt as long as you wear a jacket--besides, plenary speakers should wear a jacket. Socks, shoes. Shave, more or less. Bring comb with you for use in car. Grab keys. No time to print out the slides or anything like that. Thank God I had sent the PowerPoint e-mail to the organizer yesterday afternoon; luckily also I made the slides just yesterday so, without any notes, I would have a general idea of what would be on the next slide.

8:46 AM: The time on my dashboard clock when I start my car.

8:46:30 AM: On the road, driving to campus. [Here, JFW legal counsel insists that policies regarding self-incrimination prevent me from describing with any specificity how fast I was driving. Let's just say that The Fear Of God was in me about the potential consequences of showing up late for this talk, and The Fear Of God weighed especially heavy on my right foot as I drove. Fortunately, the lights mostly went my way, especially with a lenient interpretation of when a couple of lights turned from yellow to red.]

en route: Okay, what am I going to say for this talk? Luckily I only need to speak for 15 minutes. I know I can talk for 15 minutes about the WLS off the top of my head--I've talked for several times longer than that off the top of my head before, albeit not in a formal presentation less than an hour after I woke up. The problem is not in having stuff to say, the problem is to be coherent in saying it. [I imagine myself stammering and getting confused about what I was going to say next and feeling like a disorganized oratorical puddle, which has happened before.] The key is to stay calm. Actually, that's just the one key. Two more are look enthusiastic and look like I have no doubt about the sensibility of the next sentence that will come out of my mouth, even if I have no idea what that next sentence will be. Poised, professional, but a little quirky (since I can't help it, I might as well go with it). Speak clearly and at a deliberate pace. And, crucially: have at least three jokes. [And, as I fortunately took care of yesterday, have at least one not-the-same-old-bulleted-points PowerPoint thing; for this talk, a series of slides that build up a diagram of how the WLS has grown in its relational coverage over time.]

8:56 AM: The time when I turn off my ignition in the Lake Street parking ramp. Luck was again with me as I found a spot quickly. I pulled my car into the space at a wildly diagonal angle but did not even contemplate fixing this.

8:58:30: The time on the clock in the room when walk in. I apologize as profusely as one can briefly to the session organizer, who does not seem perturbed. She may have just been relieved that I actually showed up. The two other professors speaking in the session actually come in about 30 seconds after I arrive, so she may have been worried about the possibility of more than just me being a no-show.

And then: When my turn comes, I actually do a good talk. The jokes worked, and I had a couple of other good ad-libbed lines. The slides went over well. The organizer seemed very pleased afterward. This all only furthered my resolution, arrived at last year, that I should go with only minimal or no notes for any talk of 30 minutes or less. Instead, make good PowerPoint slides (or overheads) and then DON'T READ THEM. Also, especially in comparison to certain other speaking situations I find myself in from time to time, I have also learned how much, MUCH easier it is to give a good talk when you are speaking to an audience that seems disposed to be interested in what you have to say.

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