Academics keeping time

I am at the Annual Meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion. It's the third academic conference I've attended this year. I have seen the same thing at all of them: speakers who drone on beyond their time. Most give the appearance of willful oblivion to the moderator trying to make time for other panelists or the next speaker trying to prepare for her talk.

They mistake the attention and interest of their listeners as an indication that they deserve more time – forgetting that they, too, pay eager attention to a full panel of speakers. Or they are so enamored of their content and the chance to really describe their work that they leave in every detail and example. Some respondents mention writing down their remarks on the plane.

Many of them – us – teach capstone courses in which we teach students to be prepared, rehearse their presentations, and make sure they fit the time span. We gong them out when they go over by more than a minute. Why, then, do we think different rules apply when we are the speakers?

In a previous life, I had the opportunity to present dance workshops and sessions at the New England Folk Festival Association. A new band had to set up for each session, and the sound technicians check out a new caller. Each session had an ending time. And the sound techs were in charge. If the band was still playing and you were calling when your time was up, they flipped the switch on the sound.

So each band and caller had a clear choice: end on time with a big flourish, or in mid-melody as a flop.

Nearly every caller managed to end with a flourish. I bet academics could learn to do the same.


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