4 Mar 2015

Dodgy cursors, wonky links and alarming fire alarms...

Those who know say write from experience. In the spirit of that sage advice I'm going to focus in this post on what happens at a conference presentation when almost everything that can go wrong does go wrong.
The wonderful ASL annual conference took place this year 26 / 27 February. I was very kindly invited along to speak about the SirHenrys2014 expo that ran last summer in UCC library. Overcoming my very brief initial urge to say no and swiftly run to the safe hills I happily accepted the invitation. My first conference paper - happy days as we used say in Henrys! And so began the work on the actual presentation. After many versions and rewrites  I had a presentation to go that would, I was informed by my no way biased colleagues, rock the proverbial house. 
My paper was to be the last paper of the first day and set to start at 16.40. Appropriate graveyard slot for a paper about a nightclub. From 13.30 till 16.40 I sat and watched some great papers and did battle with the punk butterflies moshing away in my stomach. But I felt happy all would be well and right with the conference world. 
At 16.40 I was introduced and slowly walked to the podium. Proceeded to say thanks for the warm introduction and audible words actually came out. I saw this as a good start. After a few fluffs, stumbles and halts at the beginning of the actual presentation I began to get into a comfortable stride and began on a roll and began to enjoy standing up there in front of about 100 people talking passionately about how we did the expo. I said to myself hard bit over enjoy the rest.  
I hadn't counted on technology...
My screen and cursor froze. I consider myself adequately techie but couldn't resolve it. A&SL Committee member Eva Hornung rushed to my aid at the podium and fixed it. Issue sorted. Panic over. I proceeded through my section on the collaborators. Got the requisite laugh for the slide of the three curators in our - much - younger days. 

I then proceeded into the substantive part of the presentation - the crowdsourcing aspect. I laid out the social media platforms we used to promote the expo and to gather our material - the physical and the intangible by way of memories and stories. Next was to come an explanation of each platform in more detail providing examples and exposition. For example, Twitter was essential for creating a media buzz. I had many examples - but as I clicked on Colm O'Callaghan's Twitter account the proverbials hit the fan. Computer froze. Crowd froze. I momentarily froze. Eva again gallantly rushed to the podium. Two minutes of us trying to fix it. And then we Reached a new level.

Of course, like a typical Irish crowd we all sat there looking at each other as if nothing untoward was happening. My nerves began to dissipate. Good sign, nobody was using the fire alarm as an excuse to leave the room.
I decided to skip live links and dance on. This meant a complete on the spot restructure of the paper. My section on our Blog -which had worldwide reach thanks to the Cork diaspora - now involved me talking about the blog posts without showing or reading them. Facebook threads and the role that FB played in creating community, buzz and momentum had to be explained verbally. And a most wonderful two minute RTE news piece by Jennie O'Sullivan that I had intended to play to show the impact that social media can have had to be verbally explained. And finally, the piece that was to leave them literally dancing in the aisles, the announcement of the winner of a straw poll to pick the song that resonated most with the Henrys community could not be used. Everything that went wrong could go wrong. Or almost. it was pointed out by many that at least the sprinklers didn't go off.

It was actually okay. I actually was okay. And I enjoyed the whole experience immensely.

When the 'challenges' began to happen I actually felt a collective wave of empathy,  sympathy and support coming from all the delegates and sponsors. People put themselves in my place. This relaxed me. When everything goes wrong you have nothing left to lose. If things don't go according to your plan, don't panic. Just go with it.

Will I do anything different for my next conference presentation? [subtext - not scared off by the experience]
Firstly, I will make sure to embed all video in my presentation. Live links create a variable factor. I will try to eliminate as many variable factors as possible.
As far as is possible I will make sure the technology works for my presentation by doing, if possible, a run through on the day in the venue.
I will be aware that technology can be a demon and place 'challenges' in your path. No matter how well organised the committee is, (and the A&SL Committee were, and always, are remarkably organised) things unforeseen can still go wrong.
So, I will be so ready for the unexpected.
And, I will retain my sense of humour.
And in the event of everything really going wrong -  I will remember this advice from Charlie Brown and quietly leave the podium and sit with the crowd.


For the Twitter reaction to the 'challenges' and more, click here. 


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