24 November 2018

Speakers Who Extend Their Time - Amazing

A journalist friend recently wrote an interesting story about a speaker at a wedding who didn't know when to stop. I now forget the details of her story but it reminded me of a couple of occasions when I've witnessed similar excesses.

The first was at the funeral of a friend with whom I'd worked - he died quite soon after his retirement and some of his workmates and I turned up to pay our respects. I had been asked to speak and did my best to keep to the time allotted and to give due honour. His son also spoke, and then the officiating minister started. I'd worked with my friend for about 30 years and thought I knew something about his attitudes and beliefs. So I was somewhat surprised at the fervent content of the religious tribute. I threatened to walk out mid-speech but Catherine wasn't having any of that from me. Some did walk out. On and on it went.

Finally my workmate's son who was there supporting his mother, who was showing signs of distress, went up to the Minister and asked him to stop. No - on and on he went and the fire and damnation and soul saving became more inflamed. The son, after more time had passed, stood up again and asked him to stop. Finally after another round of religious fervour he stopped and eventually we all filed out of the church. The unfortunate minister was then verbally set upon by the widow, the son too. I went and had my say as well. The minister departed and never attended the function afterwards. I met my deceased friend's brother there and we shared a few laughs about the past.

The other story goes back a lot further to 1974 when I attended my first big international conference in Sydney. It was one of those special interest meetings that takes place every four years. I was stunned at the numbers present and in particular by the presence of opposing teams from the USA who seemed to take great delight in savaging one another's work. Quite intimidating for someone about to give his first overseas paper, albeit a very minor 'also ran' one on the last afternoon of the last day. But before that there was the German Professor. He was giving a leading paper on some aspect of ruminant dreaming (!) involving REM (rapid eye movement) and brain scans.

A friend from New Zealand was sitting next to me and he knew most of the main players at the conference. "See that scar" he said, directing his gaze at the German Professors face. "Sabre duelling scar" he informed me. I was duely (please excuse the pun) impressed. The professor spoke on and on, reviewed the subject, described the methodology, the results, discussed the findings and drew conclusions. But he went on beyond his allotted time. The bell was sounded. Then the Chairman rose and coughed politely. On the Professor went. After a few more minutes the Chairman moved across the stage to try and 'wrestle' back some control of the situation, The professor saw him coming. He paused and lowered his billiard cue pointer and adopted a fencer's pose. Leaping forward towards the Chairman and crying "Advance Mr Chairman - - - at your peril," He then proceeded to poke the Chairman back off the stage. The Chairman dutifully retreated to his chair, sat down stunned (as were the conference attendees), and the Professor continued for several more minutes wrapping up his lecture.

There was no time for questions and the rest of the session ran behind by some time. And morning tea was shortened to get the whole show back on time. Horrors.

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