Wednesday, August 18, 2004

the continued oratorical misadventures of jeremy freese (dispatch from san francisco, four)

(See a previous installment in this series here.)

Monday, I wrote a post saying that I had just started putting together my talk for the next morning, and that I was going to spend an hour doing so before I left to join the group going to see the San Francisco Giants play. This turned out to be untrue, as I actually spent only a half-hour on the talk, and spent the other half reading a mystery novel.* I didn't get back from the baseball game until after 11AM, and so I spent a little while more than night working on my talk and then set a wake-up call for 5:30 AM to finish my PowerPoint slides then.

A much-repeated wisdom about public presentations is that you should be Be Prepared for failures of AV technology. You are, for example, frequently told that you should make transparencies of your PowerPoint slides so that you can use the transparencies should there be a problem with the projector. The conscientious graduate student scheduled to also speak in my session had done precisely this. Myself, on the other hand, had only finished the slides themselves a half-hour before the session, and so I certainly didn't have the time to go to the Business Center and figure out how to get the slides from my computer to their computer so transparencies could be made. Consequently, it is perhaps not surprising that the graduate student was less panicky than I was when it turned out that there was no AV projector in our room.

So, fifteen minutes before our session was to begin, the graduate student and I went off in search for a projector. It took us close to ten minutes to find the office that ASA had set up to coordinate equipment. They asserted that neither of us requested a projector. I can imagine myself forgetting--although it's a little hard to believe, given that I always use PowerPoint these days--but two of us forgetting seems highly unlikely. In any case, they didn't have any spare projectors available for us to commandeer.

The graduate student said, "It's too bad [advisor's name] was leaving this morning because I know had brought his own projector."

Which inspired my own Plan B, as I remembered that Bob and Tess Hauser had also brought a projector for an exhibit promoting the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study. This would not, it should be noted, be the first time the Hausers had bailed me out by lending me something at the last minute.** I told the graduate student to go back to our room and explain why I would be late, and then I called the Hausers' room. Tess was there, and said I could borrow it.

"I was going to take a bath. Are you going to be coming to get it soon?"
"My sesssion starts in two minutes, so I'll be there in 90 seconds. What room?"
"Tower 1, room 3217"

Moving remarkably swiftly for a professionally attired person of my weight, I did make it to the 32nd floor of the hotel in 90 seconds, but was thrown off when I discovered that there was no room 3217 in Tower 1. A maid was in the hall, and I asked her where room 3217 was, and she gave me this baffled look and affirmed that there was no room 3217.

Just then a door down the hall opened, and Tess stuck her head out, saying she heard my voice. Room 3271. I'm sure that's what she said, and I just mixed up the digits in my general addledness.

So I get their projector and rush back down to the room where my session was supposed to be taking place. They were waiting for me in order to begin. I hadn't really held anything up; one of the speakers had cancelled, and so our session had plenty of time. Besides that, other than the speakers and their co-authors, only three people were in attendance: a guy who made several astute comments at the end, a friend who had come to hear me present, and a seemingly insane person (it's comforting to have another verification of the rule that there's at least one at every session, no matter how small one's session is).

Still, I hurriedly set up the projector and then took my seat, as I was scheduled to be the last speaker. The graduate student had opted not to use the projector, instead going with his backup transparencies. The other speaker just passed out a handout, noting that he had learned never to rely on other people for AV equipment.***

When it was my turn to talk, I hit the combination of keys that would launch the PowerPoint presentation and send the output from the screen to the projector. The title slide did come up, but everything on the screen was backwards--exactly as if you were looking at the slide in a mirror. There was a impressed murmur from the audience at this, as some of those who were aware of the perils of computerized visual aids had still not realized that the AV Gods could screw a person over this badly. "How is that even possible?" one person asked.

The WLS, I remembered, had set up its booth so that it was rear-projecting its slide presentation; that is, the projector set up behind a translucent screen rather than in front of a white one. The projector must be set to some menu option for rear-projection. I tried to figure out how to change it back, but it's actually hard to navigate on-screen menus when the different options are printed backwards and when pressing right on the selection pad causes the cursor to go left. To my credit, I realized the futility quickly and so only spent a few seconds fiddling with this.

And so, then, I just started my talk. As far as I could tell, it actually went over nicely. I held my laptop flat in front of me like a book, looking down and flipping the slides ahead to remind me of what I had wanted to say. When it came time to show a graph, I turned the laptop around and held it out to the audience, pointing to what the different colored bars on the graph meant. Given that there were only nine people there, this seemed reasonably effective, perhaps reminiscent of those flip charts that Ross Perot used to use.

* An Instance of the Fingerpost, by Iain Pears. It takes place in 17th century England. It's an excellent and engrossing book in the same vein as (but, so far at least, better than) Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. I basically spent last night reading it and catching up on my sleep rather than going out to enjoy San Francisco, which can be interpreted as saying something certainly flattering about the book and less flattering about myself.

** The most generous of which, perhaps, happened when the clutch went out on my car about twenty miles outside of Madison as I was driving home for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. The Hausers not only came and picked me up, but they loaned me their car for the weekend, which was certainly the first appearance of any kind of Volvo on the Freese Family Farm.

*** The problem with this being, unfortunately, that handouts are not, excepting certain instances, anywhere near as effective as overheads or PowerPoint, if for no other reason than overheads and PowerPoint encourage the audience to keep look in the general direction of the speaker instead of down at their laps.

1 comment:

Tom Volscho said...

Many thanks to Jeremy for bailing me out when the laptop I was using showed signs of a nearly dead battery and the power supply/surge protector in the Hilton was not working! He found a place to plug it in and operated my Powerpoint slides for me as if we had previously rehearsed. He also filled in as Presider for the session.