Monday, April 6, 2009

Talk Etiquette

I go to a lot of talks, both on campus and off, of people who are famous nationally (and internationally) as well as famous in their own minds. So I'd like to give some unsolicited advice to those both giving talks and those attending talks (especially those who participate in Q&A).

*Please turn OFF those cell phones! It's annoying and embarrassing and cringe-worthy when your damn cell phone goes off in the middle of someone's talk. And it's just plain rude.

*Under no circumstances should you do the following, especially during the Q&A of a VERY FAMOUS, INTERNATIONALLY RECOGNIZED POLITICIAN with a standing-room crowd of hundreds and a line of people at two mics trying to ask questions:

1) Do not ask a follow-up question. You probably do have a follow-up question or comment or response that you want to make. But do you see all those people behind you? They'd also like to ask a question. If you stand at the mic and ask your follow-up question, especially when it's NOT a real question but a comment in which you ask "Don't you agree with me?" then no one is going to be agreeing with you--they will be annoyed with you because no one, but you, is as interested in your pet topic as you are.

2) Do not ask a question based on another talk that this person gave that you heard/saw/read about weeks ago. Those of us who weren't at THAT talk or who didn't read about THAT talk will be out of the loop/confused. And we came to hear THIS talk not that other talk that you have a question about.

3) Do not ask the famous senator why Barack Obama's campaign this summer did not return your email message because you decided this would be the first time you were going to volunteer for a political campaign. Seriously! You now look crazy. You just asked Senator X why Candidate Obama's campaign never returned your email message. And it took you ten minutes to get to THAT question--ten minutes in which you gave us all your biography and your credentials. Which just proves that just because someone has a PhD doesn't mean that you are smart--because clearly having a PhD and asking Senator X why Barack Obama's campaign HQ didn't respond to your email message makes you look a little crazy and not so smart.

*You were invited to give a talk. More than likely you were PAID to give a talk. And if you were invited and paid to give a talk, you should think about the following:

1) People have come to hear you talk about your subject because they consider you to be an expert. They are showing you respect by coming to your talk. It would be nice for you to reciprocate that respect, especially during the Q&A. Even if you think a question is stupid, it would be nice if you didn't reflect that sentiment so clearly on your face or even to insinuate it in your reply.

2) If you are someone who is here to give a talk on social justice, especially on the way that the academy does not pay enough attention to class and poor people, then you severely undercut your authority when you claim that for the sake of your argument you don't care about *real* poor people. Last time I checked, people who were interested in issues of social justice didn't just think about poor people as fodder for their theories and theses but as real people whose lives they care about, in the abstract and the actual.

3) Even if you are an internationally famous person, or especially if you are a famous person in your particularly academic discipline, you don't have to act like a diva. It's unattractive and a turn-off.


Dance said...

Condolences. Sounds like a disappointing and frustrating evening. I hate it when talks don't live up to anticipation.

Jennifer said...

Thanks Dance--actually, this was about a series of talks I had gone to in the past month.

The truth is, the majority of talks I go to follow basic rules of courtesy (on the part of the speaker) and hospitality (on the part of the audience). But I went to two talks, back to back, one of a well-known academic and the other of a very famous senator. And the Q&A of the senator and the substance and Q&A of the academic were what I wanted to address in this post.

But yes, it is frustrating--especially the well known academic. Although it was also an exercise in realizing the kind of professor that I don't want to be.