In which I don’t know where they find these people

middle-finger-poster-flag-6185-pI am either the most arrogant sonofabitch on the planet, an utter wizard at doing large-room presentations, or both, because it never goddamn fails that I always think I can do a better job than the people presenting at these conferences.  It took precisely 45 minutes for me to walk out of my first breakout conference, and it was the first breakout conference of the convention, so I’m either at 1/1 or 0/1 so far depending on how you’re keeping track.

I wasn’t alone.  These sessions are a scant  hour and fifteen minutes long.  If I paid five hundred dollars of gubmint money to be able to attend this thing– and I did– then I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect the presenters to prepare an hour and fifteen minutes of actual material before they come to present, and to actually have something to say about the topic on which they are supposedly presenting.  If I attend a talk that references starting new magnet schools in the title of the talk, I assume based on that title that the people doing the talk have started a magnet school or perhaps started a series of magnet schools and that they feel like they have something useful to pass on to others about this process.

In other words, I want to go there to hear you talk about your subject, and not to have conversations with “elbow partners” about poorly-defined subjects that no one in the room really quite gets, and I sure as fuck don’t want you to spend seven minutes talking about how it’s important that we conclude our sixty-second elbow talks in sixty seconds because we have a schedule to keep to.

When you lead into your fourth “elbow talk” in 45 minutes, and you announce that this one will require all of us to change our seats based on a topic we supposedly chose a few minutes ago (no one chose a topic, because we didn’t know what the fuck you were talking about or why we were doing it) and then to “ideate” for four and a half minutes, and then you spend ten minutes talking about the difference between “ideating” and “brainstorming,” which boils down to “we want to use a fancier word for made-up differences between the terms,” you’re making it very fucking clear that you had no plan for this whatsoever and that you are deliberately and perniciously wasting my time, and I start doing the math and determining how much of a refund you personally owe all of the motherfuckers in the room who spent $500 for this conference before we paid for transportation, hotel rooms, or meals.

Hint: five figures.  Which had muhfuckin’ better well be bigger than your speaking fee, you waste of flesh.

A positive: I spent my “elbow sessions” talking with an elderly white man from Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana.  I initially began our conversation by carefully calibrating my expectations for Elderly White Man from Louisiana, only to accidentally trigger a truly delightful anti-Bobby Jindal rant a moment later.  His name was Elvis, which only made him more fun to talk to.  Unfortunately, he bailed at the same time I did, as we both realized at once that the presenters literally had nothing of value to say.  I like you, Elvis.  I hope the rest of your conference goes better.

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Luther M. Siler

The author of SKYLIGHTS, THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES and several other books.

12 thoughts on “In which I don’t know where they find these people

  1. The best part of bad conferences is finding that person who has the same “WTF?” reaction to everything that you do to, rather than mindlessly smile and nod.

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  2. As an outsider to US edumacation, what do you think of magnet schools? In Australia we have a quite different system of education, although by the looks of it the phenomenon of magnet or specialised schools is similar but not the rationale. We also have a very big (1/3 of total school population and rising) percentage of students attending very expensive private and catholic schools alongside public schools. I’m interested in your opinions on how US governs its school policies and education. Ours is currently a state-based system, but tested nationally in yrs 3,5,7. Private schools can teach whatever they want, as long as the targets for literacy and numeracy are met. We are about to introduce a nation-wide curriculum document which has ramifications for all education in Australia. Does the U.S. have a similar nationwide curriculum plan or is it state based? Sorry, big questions from someone not at the conference!


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