*This is a rant.*
I attended an event to mark Global Handwashing Day this morning, and when it started only three minutes late, I was quite optimistic. These are disciplined people who respect the idea of punctuality, I thought, especially because the conference was being conducted by two highly reputed organisations. However, I should have known from the agenda, which listed as many speakers as Arnab packs into one session of The Newshour, that punctuality was going to be a difficult virtue to practise.
The first three speakers together took up about 90 minutes instead of their allotted 45; naturally, this left the most articulate speaker on the panel short of time. But as this can be expected in most Indian conferences, I’ll move to the points that particularly irked me.
1. The presenters thoughtfully prepared hundreds of slides to discuss in fifteen-minute slots. This isn’t even possible.
2. Each slide resembled a page of my dissertation. Bullet points exist for a reason. If you write paragraphs on your slides, then go on to read them, and then explain them, you must consider your audience very dumb indeed.
3. Repetition. The Internet is a very large source, but somehow most presenters managed to mention the same facts and figures, and even the same comparisons. There were three mentions of how, despite having worked on missions to the moon and to Mars, we perform poorly on certain social indicators (and if this appears in a foreign newspaper, the same people will probably cry foul).
4. There was a lurid image in one of the slides. This was totally uncalled for. Talk about the work you do by all means to create an impression. You don’t have to use a disturbing image in your presentation, but if you absolutely must, warn people before you display it.
5. There was a gatecrasher at the event. One of the speakers acted pettishly when he couldn’t get the videos embedded in his slides to work, getting all irritated with a staff member who had set up the projector (!). So when a young man offered to fill in as nobody else wanted to go extempore, he was ready allowed to speak. All swagger, the young man proceeded to relate a remote “incident” to describe how much he was loved and adored by some people he knew, following which he recited a “poem” he had written. I hope he realised that he had just pulled a coup. Actually, this didn’t annoy me: it was funny.
6. If I wanted to attend endless lectures which didn’t encourage debate or discussion, I’d just go back to college. The organisers had set apart 25 minutes for a discussion, but thanks to some speakers’ ineptitude, there was no time for it.
7. Practise what you preach. If you want to tell people in what ways they should invest their time and money, you should set an example yourself. You could begin by respecting the time of those who have come to listen to you. Don’t mess with the schedule, and then condescend to take one grand question at the end as a nod to the rules.
The marathon lecture on the importance of hygiene ended at two and the party broke for lunch. And not surprisingly, everyone made a beeline for the buffet tables, effectively rendering the lessons on washing hands useless. Maybe we didn’t deserve any better.