Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Ten minutes

Now there's a challenge!

I have now had confirmation of acceptance of the two Abstracts that I submitted to the World CE Congress in Hong Kong. I would have been going anyway, these presentations' being accepted or not, as I have other things to do there, but I can imagine that, if my trip and the money to pay for it had depended upon presenting something, then I should be becoming rather itchy by now.

Remember too that for some who  have applied, there might be more than simply disappointment involved: kudos, professional face or much needed personal or departmental points in the academic rat- race. Just because I am not involved in such matters does not mean that I discount the stress or the pain of those who are. They have chosen most uncomfortable beds to lie in and now, for some of them anyway, their immediate discomfort is at an end!

And as is the way in out far from perfect world a new problem now opens up before us: sucessful applicants have been allocate only ten minutes each for oral presentations.

Ten minutes

Any idiot can talk on a topic for an hour or two – or three. I often have! But for ten minutes? That takes skill and talent. Roland  Lefèvre commented succinctly on this matter on Facebook yesterday morning:

...en effet, payer plus de 1000 €uros et voyager 12 heures pour ne parler que 10 minutes: soit il faut avoir un esprit de synthèse très développé soit il faut être masochiste...


Le masochisme is not under consideration here, but certainly l'esprit de synthèse has not to date seemed Conductive Education's most plentifully apparent attribute

There may have been be all sorts of good reasons and strong pressures to have forced this time-limitat upon the organisers but these falls under the category of my favourite kind of problem – somebody else's. As far as I, the punter (the customer, the consumer) am concerned, however, this decision still comes as a bit of a shock. I vaguely recall (but I could be wrong) that oral presentations were originally to be allotted twenty minutes. The actual call for submissions had this down to fifteen minutes:

Authors of abstracts accepted for oral presentation will be given 15 minutes for presentation (preferably using Powerpoint) along with a joint 15 minute discussion at the end of the allocated 'theme' session. It is imperative that the time limit be strictly observed by all presenting authors.


A sudden change at this stage is a bit of a bad show. Now I and all the others will have to take a radical look at what we intended to say, the facts and arguments to justify this, the illustrative material that just might fix some iota of what is said in the minds of the audience.

The topic that it have had presented is called:

Barefoot conductors
Possibilities and implications of feldsherism in Conductive Education

Snappy, eh? I will not be distracting my audience's attention with a slide show and I shall forbid them to fracture it further by scribbling down notes (for a mere ten minutes, maybe I can ensure this by having sit on their hands). But there is a lot to convey.

I had submitted a 578-word abstract and, if I were simply read his through and explain basic terms, then there would go my ten minutes! No, I shall have to do something rather radical if my ten minutes are to serve any practical communicative/educational function.: fairly easy to achieve in these multi-media days but all requiring time to consider over the next few months, that perhaps I might have used more entertainingly

Come the day, it will be interesting to see how others have adapted to this problem. In the best of all possible worlds, come the day I shall be ready for it!

Come the day

Come the day, however, I shall not be in the best of all possible worlds. I will be at a conference, in a real human social world and I and everybody else will be subject to the final, real-time realities ('Events,dear boy, events'). Here are but some of the little social quirks that stand between the best of all possible worlds and the world of reality that we actually live in.
  • The now traditional huddle of people and tangle of wires at the front of the room before things even start; the sad appeal to the audience 'Does any one here know about computers?'; the eager volunteer from the floor who only makes makes matters worse; the plaintive despair of 'It looks like this system is incompatible with mine...'
  • The 'chair' who cannot chair; cannot get the audience sat down and shut up; cannot get speakers to finish on the dot (and believe me, with only ten minutes each it is not minutes that have to be watched, but seconds!); cannot ensure that each speaker is winding down to finish not just on the dot (seconds again) but with enough time to clear the stage and get the next one up and started (again to the second!)
  • That awful speaker, the joker who ploughs on and on and on, with some ludicrous, irrelevant getting-to-know-you exercise, or reading aloud every last word of every last list on every last overhead slide, or persisting with some much treasured but far-too-long video film, impervious to what the clock is doing, totally ignoring the warnings then imprecations from the chair, bashing on regardless into the next speaker's time – the anti-social, psychotic sociopath who has come for one thing and one thing only, and to Hell with everyone else around (everyone has suffered this: I certainly have, from the point of view of chairing such monsters, or from being trapped in the audience and having to get up and walk out and, worst of all, being scheduled to speak later in the session and watching the time allocated to me being eaten away by this uncaring drivell till there is no longer any left to air my own incomparable gems…)
  • The noisy clatter of people in the audience who push to get out to go somewhere they hope to be better at the end of each presentation, and the even noisier bunch who clamber in, often when the new speaker is already under way, having been released late from another presentation down the corridor that overran and overran...
If you have 20-25 minutes for 'your' time, then you can build in a little slack. You can crack a joke or two, you can interact a little and work the audience. You can get to know them just a little, and they you. In ten minutes... well, all that is still possible but it will not be easy.

If you suffer just one of the human Acts of God of the sort listed above, then it will be even less easy. And if you get more than one one in a single session, maybe even more than one from a single category, then Tail-End Charlie may not get much of a look-in.

In the event, of course, Tail-End Charlie will probably be OK, being able to squeeze in during the allotted themed discussion time. Er, in that case, what about the discussion? There goes some of your coffee-queuing and socialisation time, or some of the time to give reasonable attention to the people who have taken pains to prepare poster displays (I declare an interest, I am on of these too. Mopst likely, there goes meanu=inful disussion.

I am sure that it will all go swimmingly and a most jolly time will be had by all.

A different take altogether

Norman Perrin as ever takes a more optimistic view than I, here on the efficacy of short conference presentations in the communication of knowledge:

1 comment:

  1. I was told once that a presentation should be like a womans' dress: short enough to be interesting and long enough to cover the story...
    What worries me is not the fact that presentations are limited to 10 minutes only (I had been in conferences where the time limit was 7 minutes!!!), but that more presentations are quizzed into one session. This might be quite exhausting.
    Yet, there were probably a wider set of factors which led this decision to be made, and we should do the best to convey our knowledge under these requirements..and... yes we can!
    It reminds me of an old joke (at time when Telegram was the way to send short messages: A son sent a Telegram to his father: "No mon, no fun, your son. The father replied: " So sad, so bad, your dad"

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