Saturday, July 12, 2008

Please don't make me hate you

I'm still here--in the City that Never Stops Taking Your Money--but my conference has finally careened to the end of its week-long run. It was, on balance, a very good conference. But before I get to the good stuff, some advice on how you can increase the likelihood that Flavia will attend your session at some conference to come. (First of all, it would have to be on a topic in which she has some interest. But that's only the first hurdle!)

Four things that will make me avoid your panel, clamber over an entire row of people to get out of your panel--or wish to God that it were socially acceptable to do the latter:

  1. Papers on Early Modern topics that involve extended parallels to contemporary political events. A brief aside about, say, the Bush Administration may not be amiss, especially if it's genuinely clever. But the key word is brief. If I wanted to hear your rambling and ill-informed remarks about John Yoo, I would not be attending a session on All's Well That Ends Well.
  2. Speakers, especially women, whose voices are so wispy they're barely picked up by a microphone. This is only partly about audibility. It's about the entire lack of confidence and enthusiasm that your voice communicates.
  3. Papers that use twentieth-century writers or thinkers to illuminate those from much earlier eras. Again, a brief anecdote or quotation may be useful and illuminating. But I have NO INTEREST in how you think Norman Mailer will help me to read Thomas Wyatt.
  4. Speakers whose self-presentation suggests they consider themselves the reincarnation of Mark Van Doren. That vaguely British but clearly spurious accent? your ridiculously brilliantined hair? the Latin tags sprinkled in once per page? Make me want to kill you. (On the other hand: awesome suit and glasses, dude.)

Seriously. It is not my job to care about your paper. It is your job to make me care--or at least to feel that the 20 minutes I spent listening to the sound of your voice were not wholly unpleasant.

My next conference isn't for months. Commit the above lessons to memory, and you may just see me there.

14 comments:

Natori said...

Thanks for daring to say what most of us are thinking, Flavia, when attending conference panels. Especially the comment about meek presenters---honestly, have a little oomph behind what ya say, people. Hope you are gleaning sustenance from the Motherland of all us English types.

Thoroughly Educated said...

Yes yes yes. Especially #2. Can you imagine some of these people in the classroom?

Flavia said...

Yes! That's what drives me nuts--don't these people teach? I realize that not everyone is a naturally dynamic speaker. But it's really not hard to learn how to project, how to modulate one's voice in a reasonably engaging way, and to look out at the audience at regular intervals.

And I meant to add, as a footnote: there was a paper at this conference that had a title nearly identical to the title of this blog. It might have been a coincidence. . . but the dude who was delivering it is about my age (I didn't attend, but I scoped him out at another panel) and teaches at an institution where I know I have at least one reader. So hey, dude: if you're reading, feel free to drop me an email.

Dr. Virago said...

Speakers whose self-presentation suggests they consider themselves the reincarnation of Mark Van Doren

Te-hee! This cracked me up. I suppose it could be worse -- they could consider themselves the reincarnation of Charlie Van Doren and find themselves in a game show or reality TV cheating scandal.

Pamphilia said...

What is it about academics and awesome glasses? The stakes get higher and higher. I hope to debut my new pair at GEMCS or MLA, but I'm actually a little anxious about it. Thankfully, I do not have a wispy voice.

Speaking of which, there's another female voice that annoys me almost as much as the faint, wispy one- the slightly nasal, "deliberately pitching one's voice lower than normal to sound like a tough theory bitch" talking style. Then there's the high-pitched "I went to Bryn Mawr in the 60s" voice of women academics of a certain age. Vocal placement lessons could really help the entire academic community.

Susan said...

Just on the voice thing, can I add people who speak so fast you can't understand a thing?
I guess one advantage of history papers is that people are less inclined to think that talking about revolution in the 1960s will help you understand the 1640s: though they might take models from the present and see how they illuminate the past.

Sigh. When I am dictator, I will actually abolish the 20 minute conference paper, which is too short to be satisfying.

But I have awesome glasses. I learned that from the guys.

Flavia said...

Dr. V: I would permit--nay, encourage!--presenters to consider themselves the reincarnation of Charles Van Doren if doing so involved their looking like Ralph Fiennes. That would constitute at least a temporary pass for all other matters of self-presentation, scholarly ability, etc.

Peter C. Herman said...

A long time ago, I realized that conference panels are often like quidditch, that is to say, a two pronged game that goes on simultaneously. On one side, we have the panelists. Their job is simple: to put the audience to sleep by any means possible. Hence the droning monotones and the long quotations from Jacques Derrida. On the other side, we have the audience. Their job is to stay awake, AND to figure out what the papers have in common.

And another of Herman's Rules of Academia: no question has anything to do with the paper. Ergo, no answer need have anything to do with the question.

undine said...

"It is not my job to care about your paper. It is your job to make me care." This needs to be cross-stitched on a sampler and hung in all offices if not tattooed to our foreheads.

irina said...

I'll have to beg to differ on number 3, because I'm a devoted diachronist, and often the only way I can explain to myself what a text is doing is by finding another one which works along similar lines. (And I've been known to compare the Venerable Bede and Roman Jakobson, in public no less, but let's let that go.)

On the other hand, I must passionately agree with number 2. I lived through a particularly memorable version of this at Kalamazoo this year. The woman began her paper, and her voice was so soft and unclear that none of us in the audience could hear a thing. The session presider, a no-nonsense lady who wasn't going to stand for this kind of thing, stopped the speaker and asked her to speak louder. The speaker looked up frightened, and continued to read her paper just as softly. The presider once again stopped the speaker, saying, "You know what, this isn't going to work." Then she had us all move up to the very front seats, and moved the table at which the speaker was sitting until it was flush with the same front seats. Even so, we had to struggle to hear her, and it didn't help that the room was open concept, so anytime people walked down the hallway -- talking, cleaning, rolling a suitcase -- it became completely impossible to hear anything.

The kicker came during the question period. A normal-voiced woman asked the speaker a question, and the speaker had her repeat it three times, finally saying, "I'm sorry, I can't hear you."

Elizabeth said...

who the F is mark van doren? . . .(wikipediaing). . . oh. i still don't get it. was he in "rashomon"?

G-Fav said...

Since my Safari RSS reader doesn't seem to be able to keep track of your updates, I visit here manually - it's weird to hear you say "Don't make me hate you" every day.

Anyhow, maybe this xkcd strip is up your alley. If you've never seen these before, remember to "mouse over" for a few seconds for the rest of the joke.

g

Feirefiz said...

Charles van Doren just came out with his story of the quiz-show scandals in the New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/07/28/080728fa_fact_vandoren

Anastasia said...

I'd also beg to differ on #3...well, at least I'd have to add that such an analysis would fascinate me. I once sat through an entire panel on neoplatonism just to hear a paper, placed at the end, that was an extended comparison between Proust's remembrance of things past and books 8-10 of the confessions. it was delicious.