Thursday, March 06, 2008

Challenge too far

This morning I had to give a twenty minute presentation to a conference of a hundred black and ethnic minority women in city hall, introducing Christianity in Britain today. I spent goodness knows how long putting a dozen slides together to accompany a script that had only taken me a couple of hours to put together. It was a challenge that I'd been looking forward to.

However, the reality turned out to be somewhat different than I'd expected. The large room in which it was held in City Hall, turned out to be cramped, with half being taken up with tabled and displays for community organisation exhibitions, and the other half set out with insufficient chairs for the numbers who turned up. The public address system was poor and there was no lectern on which to rest the notes, which I had to follow because someone else was working the computer with the slide show on it.

So, there I was, crippled, unable to wave my arms, microphone in one hand and notes in the other. It's not easy to read and speak freely and look at your audience all at the same time - OK I don't do multitasking. Added to this the amplification was poor and people were coming and going at the back of the room throughout, and talking. It was like this all day, and several speakers stopped, asked for people to be quiet, and got a round of sympathetic applause which made no difference to the volume level of conversation for more than a minute. I was so thrown by the circumstances, I didn't have the confidence to demand silence.

I was even more thrown when one of the organisers interrupted me and told me to finish as I was just a couple of minutes from finishing, and running to time. This was so unexpected that I was unable to re-connect with the script and slides, and finished in chaos, humiliated. Chaos then followed surrounding the musical accompaniment for a couple of 'Bollywood' dancers, as the laptop containing it could not at first be linked with the amplifier, so ten minutes were wasting with people fiddling around, and calling in assistance from the house staff. Ten minutes which I could have used better, but I had been bumped off stage - a new experience for me. And one which I didn't cope with very well.

Out of politeness, I had to stay until the end of the day, but feelings of extreme annoyance pursued me like a yapping dog for the rest of the day. I had been encouraged to prepare a slide-show to accompany my talk. It had consumed five-fold the time taken to prepare the talk, and been aborted four fifths of the way through. I should have obeyed my gut instinct and said "Sorry, don't do visuals."

All in all this was not an experience I'd care to repeat. I find it harder to cope with being on the end of other people's disorganisation than I do with my own because, in the end, politeness has to prevail, even if others somehow lose the plot. This was a case of ambition in arranging a conference not being matched by the level of organisation required, packing too much into too short a time-frame, to do proper justice to the occasion.

The only scrap of comfort all day was meeting a stranger in the lunch queue, who said that she'd enjoyed listening to my podcasts.

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