Mike the Mad Biologist

When Speakers Run Over

In the midst of a very interesting post by Bora about how the web can break apart the echo chamber, I came across this passage (italics mine):

As all the speakers went substantially over their allotted times all I had left was seven minutes. Fortunately for me, I had all seven (not 3.5) as the other discussant’s flight into D.C. was canceled. Also fortunately for me, this was the very last time-slot of the meeting, so nobody was in a rush to go to another session and thus everyone let me talk a few minutes longer and then remained in the room asking even more questions.

Sure, this doesn’t have much to do with the subject of Bora’s excellent post, but it pissed me off.

I can’t stand it when that happens. Why? Well:

1) It tells me that you didn’t even take the time to run through your presentation even once just to see how long it would take. If you don’t care about your presentation, why should I?

2) It’s rude to the other speakers whose time you’re stealing (ALL UR TIMEZ ARE BELONGING TO ME!). Also, if there was going to be a discussion period, you’re limiting that too.

3) You probably could say what needed to be said in less time, but you simply didn’t put the effort in to figure out how to do that concisely. There’s a good chance you’re telling me things I don’t really need to know. Most of my talk preparation involves figuring out what to cut, not putting a presentation together.

4) I’m taking the time to listen to you, you should return the courtesy and realize there are other demands on my time.

Admittedly, if you’re a bigwig, you can probably afford to ignore this, but, if you’re not, keeping this in mind is probably a good career move.

Comments

  1. #1 Trey
    March 1, 2011

    as a Ph.D. committee member of mine said used to say:

    “Be brilliant, be brief or be gone” (or something like that, I think I remember “be hilarious”

    good advice to take when giving talks

  2. #2 Eric Lund
    March 1, 2011

    Of course, these speakers are merely following the Guidelines for Giving a Truly Terrible Talk. The overview:

    Strict adherence to the following time-tested guidelines will ensure that both you and your work remain obscure and will guarantee an audience of minimum size at your next talk. Continuity of effort may result in being awarded the coveted 5:00 P.M. Friday speaking time at the next national meeting.

    And the last point, which speaks to the topic of this post:

    (6) Use up all of your allotted time and at least half, if not all, of the next speaker’s. This avoids foolish and annoying questions and forces the chairman to ride herd on the following speakers. Remember, the rest of the speakers don’t have anything important to say anyway. If they had, they would have been assigned times earlier than yours.

    When I was a grad student back in the early 1990s, the American Geophysical Union used to distribute either this document, or the companion “How to Prepare a Perfectly Putrid Poster” (depending which format you were assigned), with the abstract acceptance letter. The guidelines are so old that they refer to presentations using 35-mm slides.

  3. #3 daisyfae
    March 1, 2011

    session organizers own the responsibility to maintain time schedules – especially when there are parallel sessions and people are ‘session hopping’.

    i thought my ‘aggressive time management’ techniques as a session chair would eventually get me ostracized as an invited organizer – but just the opposite occurred… i now get invited to chair sessions in meetings that are only peripherally attached to my tech area…

    suggest all moderators be given whips with the timer devices…

  4. #4 Janne
    March 1, 2011

    Running over time is seriously bad, agree. A few minutes in a half-hour slot, OK, but when you go way over it’s not bad planning, it’s callous disregard for anybody else.

    But I’ve always wondered: what is the proper behaviour for the speaker coming next? On one hand, they have their allotted time which they have prepared for, and should have any right to use. On the other, if they insist on using it all they’ll propagate the delay and keep people from their food, or from getting to a talk in another room on time.

    I kind of figure the best approach would be to take your part of the delay, so to speak: if the session is running half an hour late and there’s three speakers to go, each speaker cuts ten minutes off their time (partly from the talk, and partly from the question time). That’ll cause minimum inconvenience for everybody.

    And later that night all the other speakers don dark clothing and facemasks, and proceed to beat the living daylights out of the offending speaker in an alley behind the conference venue. A thoughtful organizer might even want to reserve a room for the purpose.

  5. #5 MZ
    March 2, 2011

    One of the society meetings that I frequently attend now has a tradition of synchronizing all of the concurrent sessions using music/animal sounds that are programmed to play in each room after the allotted time for the speaker is over. There is then a brief pause for questions, and THEN the music starts to play again, loudly enough that no one can hear the speaker. This is the signal to Get Off the Stage, and it is extremely effective, because no one has to play the bad guy. It is not all that technically challenging to set up (we’ve met all over the world in facilities large and small). I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do this.

  6. #6 ecologist
    March 2, 2011

    Some of the blame goes to the session moderator, one of whose jobs is to warn speakers when the end is nigh, to inform them when the end has arrived, and to stop them if they persist after the end. That can be hard to do, but walking to the podium and saying “You have to stop now; there are other speakers waiting. I’m sure you can continue discussions during the break” can be effective. In most meetings I attend, there is a short time allotted for questions after talks, so a speaker that runs over eats up his or her own question time first. That gives some time for increasingly strong reminders from the moderator, without impacting the next speaker.

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