Saturday, October 21, 2006

Yesterday's workshop

I think the workshop went well, but I'm not totally sure.

There was NO pastel. At least not on me.

They had four cameras set up; when I got there about a half an hour early, they already had things pretty much set up, and were doing finishing touches and positioning. And the room had no board, not a blackboard, not a white board. None. Remember that old Tom Lehrer song, "New Math"? During the intro on the album, he talked about how odd it was for him to work a room with no board? I feel much the same.

But I'd made some handouts of my little "poem," so I was pretty prepared, two lines on a half sheet of pink paper (and I had a red sweater on, too!) because the poem involves "red sand." So I figured I could work around the lack of a board.

One of the tech guys figured out how to put up the words to the poem across the screen. They were incredibly tech-friendly. I'm tech friendly, too. It's just that my level of technology involves a board and a piece of chalk or something. And print! I love print technology.

Then the kicker. They had set us up to sit on stools at a rather high table so that we could be tethered to a microphone thing. So, no board, which is just as well, I realized, because we also wouldn't be able to stand up and move around. My stomach started grinding because when I do presentations and stuff, I run on adrenaline, and I really like to try to engage with whatever audience there is. I'm a rather physical talker, I suppose.

Stools? who can sit comfortably on a stool for two hours?

We were about ready to start. They turned on the lights because cameras need a lot of light. Then they tethered us to the stools. And waited for the camera stuff to be ready. Hot lights. Tethered. On a stool. Waiting.

They had a camera off to either side, one behind me, one behind my colleague, then one in front with the audience point of view, then one from the opposite point of view.

For a Friday afternoon, we had a decent audience of friendly faculty folks. In order to make the cameras able to record questions, they put the audience on one side of the audience space, the side behind me.

We finally got started, and my colleague gave his talk. No doubt, I should have been calm, cool, and collected, but the camera totally freaked me out. I tried not to scratch anywhere inappropriate, not to drool when I drank a sip of water, not to sit inappropriately on the stool. I tried to look interested, but not stare like an idiot, and so on. I took a few notes.

The whole time, I kept trying to figure out if we were trying to talk to the audience, to the moderator and commentors sitting at the table with us, or to one or another of the cameras. My colleague mostly talked to the commentors at the table, it seemed. But that meant he was also pretty much facing and talking to the audience.

My turn came, and just before, I couldn't help thinking, I just have to talk and then it will be over, no matter how badly I do.

So, how did it go? On the positive side: the audience was fantastic. They nodded in good places, and were responsive and willing when I asked them to read the poem aloud and talk about how it tasted and felt in their mouths. Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster! Because they were responsive, I got into my talk well, and didn't worry nearly as much about the cameras. I found I could indeed sit on a stool and still get some level of animation across.

I was happy that I knew my talk well enough that I didn't have to look at my written version at all, and I thought my new conclusion worked pretty darned well.

I got to do a Robin Williams bit in an academic context. (I've lived yet another fantasy now!)

On the negative side: I stumbled over some words in ways that will sound stupid on tape. I forgot to come back to someone who'd made a good point about imagery before I was ready to go there (though I did bring back other earlier good comments when we got to the imagery thing). I misspoke the poem!

The commentor did a really nice job bringing the two presentations together, and bringing in points helpful to the specific audience where we were talking. Everyone was nice, and said nice things.

But when you give a talk or a presentation, you really want someone to come up at the end and say, "Wow, that was fantastic." I've had my share of positive feedback, but in a sad way, it's never really enough. So I'm not sure that my presentation was up to fantastic, despite the nodding heads and active participation.

I manage to balance on the fine line between having an ego big enough to fill the state all by myself, and wanting to be reassured that I wasn't a complete dud. After all, maybe the participation and nods were all just some sort of shocked and kindly reaction to my incompetence?

I do know that I will NEVER look at the DVD when they send it.

The tech people said afterwards that they'd be making the video available on the campus system.

So, if I looked really stupid, I'm sure some student will be happy to make a short youtube video with mocking commentary and music to let the world know. That's a cheerful thought, don't you think? Like the famous youtube thing of the guy being attacked by a deer, or the lecturer who's obviously high. I can get my fifteen minutes of fame looking like an idiot tethered to a microphone system and almost falling off a stool. It's something to look forward to.

Another great positive, though. It was neat to get to know some of the faculty there a bit, and to make some connections. I can see that we could do some cooperative work that would benefit all of us. Sometimes it feels intellectually lonely here in the NorthWoods, and I'm sure they get that, too. Now I have a little less sense of loneliness, and a little more sense that these other folks are out here, teaching their best, and thinking and willing to talk. I'm glad that they arranged this and invited my colleague and I over. I want us to follow up.

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