Friday, December 11, 2009

Conferee

You know, at nearly 37 years old, and having done this sort of thing for 15 of them, you'd think I could count on my ability to present in front of people without freezing up like a wild animal hypnotized by a headlight. I had no less faith in my work than I usually do, and I can't say I felt shy--I don't know who that was up there. I go along for months, years, at a stretch without that shivering dweeb breaking through and spazzing out in front of everyone, but I can never quite exorcise the twerp. It was like discovering, years later, I still have the ability to bomb my first job interview. Maybe it was the hair.

On the other hand, the vertigo is still here two days later, and might not be just stagefright. (My Mom was recovering from a viral infection with these symptoms when I saw her the time before last.) Great.

Still, a technical conference. It's been awhile.

PROS:

  • Constructive criticism! I was sitting across from my boss and our marketing guy, and the timing with which they broke their conversation to sadly look at me was priceless. On a dime, the conversation turned to my many faults. I wasn't an embarrassment, you asshole, my nerves (or something) just got the better of me and I gave a bad talk. The data is still there.

  • Food! A good conference will feed you, and I'm still childish enough to savor any slop I don't have to pay for. A better conference will have at least one cocktail reception around the posters.

    If I can ditch the corporate whip-masters, then there's even a possibility of a pleasant, quality dinner. On Wednesday night, I escaped to sample this guy's tasting menu, which didn't disappoint. I'm going to have a hard time fitting it into the per diem, but it was totally worth it.

  • Swag! The number one reason anyone attends these things. That's a nice fucking ball-point.

  • I'm not dead! I'm trying not to notice, really, and wouldn't be tempted in a million years anyway. But it's a secret all nerdboys know: smart girls are sexy. Not that I'm looking.

  • Ideas! Meetings are really where all of the cutting edge ideas first turn up to the public (I chuckle when I read technology journalists whining about the journals' monopoly on the scientific scoop). There's just so much cleverness and genius flying from so many directions, that even a lazy cynic like me can caught up in the inventive whirlwind. There's nothing like furiously scribbling out a notebook full of stimulating research and your own whip-smart corrolarries, only to scratch your head over it when you get back. Back in the day, my advisor used to photocopy notes like this for the benefit of his students. It was even worse than trying to figure out my own notes now.

    CONS:
  • Integrity! Marketing a program isn't the same thing as reporting data. Even when the two are pointing in the same direction, as they are this time really, you can still feel the friction if you're reporting. I mean, the data are promising and encouraging and whatnot, but there's a strong motivation to really celebrate what there is, which simply isn't the way I operate. Hell, I can barely get the self-analysis up to neutral territory, never mind something positive. When the data and the pitch are far apart, then things can be really stressful. I have to think that even marketing people can feel it then.

  • Nerds! Nerds! Nerds! There's some fine posts that can come out of analyzing the social behavior of highly-educated technical types. Anyway, you can spot the schoolyard asserting itself here as much as anywhere else--you still have to decide who you'll sit with during lunch. Among the young-ish types, there's the squeaky overachievers, the intellectual show-offs, the self-imagined rogues, we're-all-from-the-same-group gangs, and people too geeky even for the geeks. Your older conferees have gradually infected themselves with standard varieties of professor, colonel, salesman, and kook archetypes. It can be fun to imagine how one becomes the other, and of course to watch the dynamics when they're put next to one another.

    And for all this, I am sure the majority are workaday schlubs too, even if I find them surprisingly hard to pin down. Not much interested in talking shop outside of working hours, my grand strategy has always been to identify the people who'd rather be elsewhere, and pair off so as to mock from the sidelines, or just go get a beer, but it's never once worked. Usually, I forgo socializing altogether and just go off to read books.

  • Airplane! I hate air travel just a tiny bit more every time I do it.

  • 4 comments:

    twif said...

    i don't mind flying so much if i'm solo. bring a few books and plenty of nicotine gum. it's carting the Ton-o-Crap that comes along with a toddler through the gate that's a pain in the ass.

    thankfully, i do not have to go to conferences. farthest i have traveled for work is Scranton.

    artandsoul said...

    You were so close to my neck of the woods!

    I may have to try Woodfire...looks delish.

    I'm not much into the plane travel thing either. I just do Xanax.

    Or drive.

    John Atkinson said...

    I don't know why I read this post, but I'm convinced you could write comedy. Best

    Keifus said...

    Twif, I've been thrilled to watch the toddler stuff (a friend of my wife's calls it World O' Plastic) gradually disappear my girls grow up. I'm wondering to myself how much longer the younger one will be into toys, which is really a weird feeling.

    As for flying, I've found that the best antidote for irrational terror is bone-tired world-weariness, which I'd also like to avoid. (Unusual dizzy spells did not help.) I've often thought about having a long, boozy lunch to at least dull the edge, but I'm usually with my boss.

    Art: "So the deer for this are native to India but run wild on the ranch. Since hunting them, or sending them to a slaughterhouse would raise their adrenalin levels and flavor their meat [!], they're sniped completely unawares..." And tasting that, I could believe it.

    Atlanta's still kinda far from Florida, isn't it?

    John: Thanks!