Friday, May 09, 2008

The Other Side

Some months ago I was at a friend's wedding and volunteered to give a speech. Me! Later, some guests said "What a nice speech, I could never talk in front of so many people." Yeah, I thought, that's what I too used to say. "It comes with the job," I told them.

Indeed, had I known being a physicist involves speaking in front of people that frequently, I probably would have become a landscape designer or something. But I didn't know. Anyway, one gets used to it. On Wednesday, Stefan took some photos during my talk in Duisburg. Unfortunately the photos are all rather blurred and he's decided he needs a new digital camera. I found the photos aren't soo bad, and maybe some of you are interested how that talk-giving looks from the speaker's side.

So here's me during the introduction (Sabine made her PhD in soandso, spent a year here and a year there and currently works in X on Y. We're very happy to have her here today, and she'll speak on, ooohm...). What this photo demonstrates very nicely is the first-row-gap. The unwritten first law of scientific talks that says nobody ever sits in the first row, unless the density exceeds one person per seat.



The next photo was taken shortly before the talk began, while the audience was entering the room. What you see here demonstrated is the second law of scientific talks, saying people cluster towards the back and/or close to the exits so they can leave without causing much attention. The speaker always notices if somebody leaves, believe me. There's nothing as depressing as people leaving during a talk, even if you tell yourself they probably have an appointment or have to change into superman clothes and save the world or so.

I didn't notice anybody leaving on Wednesday. They were all very nice and polite, and also didn't interrupt me to ask questions that would have been answered the next slide. (A very annoying habit that is fairly widespread).



I don't particularly like if the room is much too large for the audience, like in this case. Because of the second law people tend to sit in the back meaning I have to shout, and that can be quite exhausting. Besides this, one has to talk to many empty seats which makes you feel as if the tickets didn't sell or so. The talk in Duisburg was actually well visited, esp. if you consider it was a beautiful late spring afternoon. I count 47 people on the photo above. The last two rows filled somewhat more than on this photo, and some where sitting to the right. In total there were maybe 60 people or somewhat more, 3 of which were women. Yeah, sorry, I always count the women share, and that's another thing that is always depressing. Now here's a more funny aspect



Stefan tells me the guy who is waving with his hands didn't chase mosquitoes but was asking a question (forgot about what). Two other people are scratching their heads while the guy in the front is... hummm... cooling his forehead on the table? I've seen people sleeping in this position during flights. I've tried but instead of sleep I only got a backache. Anyway, it's sometimes very funny to watch the audience and how people linger around in their seats, picking their noses, or make funny faces.

If you're interested, here are the slides of the talk (watch out, it's ~12 MB)

23 comments:

Christine said...

Having given talks as well as having sung arias/cantatas in theaters/churchs -- both scary situations -- I can assure you that the latter is orders and orders of magnitude scarier than the former. You cannot make mistakes when singing, or at least your mistake must be so that nobody notices it. Well, in a talk if you make a (noticeable) mistake you can always acknowledge that later, you cannot do that singing: you must start and end it. When singing you cannot even dream of sneezing.

I also agree with you: if I knew that in a science career it would be essential to make so many social interactions (not only talks), I'd have given up immediately.

But I really didn't know.

Ed said...

Not to change the subject, but does time really exist or not?

Andreas said...

Time will tell...

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

Thanks to you and Stefan for the inside view of your lecture. The first thing I noticed was the lack of density with regard to those attending. As you pointed out 70 people in this size venue has it look somewhat empty. Now if you had held it in the Bob room at Perimeter it would have been standing room only. This then proves that attendance is likewise relative:-) I also enjoyed your observations on the spread and pattern of attendants. In regards to this there appears to be a left side preference. What then would you suspect could account for this apparent lack of symmetry?

Best,

Phil

Eric Gisse said...

I sleep like that on flights too, usually with my coat insulating my forehead from plastic. Especially when my seatmates are so inconsiderate to not let me sleep on their shoulder.

Regarding quantum gravity...does anyone have a serious expectation of gravitons existing? My understanding is gravitons are what you get if you take a crack at quantizing linearized GR, which should be well-understood to be only an approximation.

Has anyone figured out where gravitons would fit in strong field situations where the perturbative theory does not apply?

Bee said...

Phil: There was no entry on the right side, it was an outside wall with windows.

Bee said...

Ed: define 'time' define 'exist'.

Ed said...

Bee that's a fair enough question. I was refering to the results of the poll/discussion in your former article "Every now and then"

Bee said...

Yeah, but the question there wasn't whether time exists?

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

“There was no entry on the right side, it was an outside wall with windows”

I knew you could explain the anomaly. So there were windows on the other side; in as I see no one with their head turned to the right and you described it as being a beautiful spring day, then this would have me convinced those attending were taken by your lecture:-)

Best,

Phil

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

One last observation and that being I noticed that the majority of your presentation you offered as a down load was in English. Was this how it was presented verbally and if so is it a requirement or an option?

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

My talk was in English. I simply realized too late I could have talked in German, but it would have been confusing for me anyhow. I've never given a talk about the topic in German (seminars at the ITP in Frankfurt used to be in English because we always had guests who didn't speak German), and each time I try to explain something in German, I fall back into English. The questions at the end were in German though. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

You truly are a person caught between two worlds. I can’t imagine having ones thoughts, concepts and expression split between two languages. You truly have a view of things I will never understand outside of realizing it possible. I then thank you again for the insight.

Best,

Phil

Ed said...

Golly, gee whiz. You let yourself and everyone who commented use the word exist without having to define it. How come I do?
All I was wondering was if you came to any conclusions or had any insights regarding time as a result of either the poll or the comments. I personally think that we would mean exist in the sme sense that physicists do when the include it in calculations.

Bee said...

Gee whiz, sigh. Ed, in the previous post I explicitly stated I'm not going to define 'existence'. Instead, I danced around it asking whether the present has the same properties as the past and the future, and lets refer to these properties as 'existence'. This question works because everybody of us has some conception of the present, and all my question was aiming at was whether the past or future is different irrespective of our subjective perception. In the comments I've interpreted 'existence' in the same way.

But that procedure doesn't work if you ask whether 'time' exists, esp. not without defining 'time', so I don't know what to do with your question. I'm not nitpicking or trying to be nasty, I honestly don't know what you mean.

Best,

B.

Ed said...

I would give you a definitive answer to the two most studied and researched questions in the history of man, but I won't deprive you of the ultimate satisfaction of finding the answers yourself. I guess I should have asked "have you learned anything as a result of the post and related survey?" Thats all I was going for.

Bee said...

I learned from the previous post that quite some people favour the block universe because they believe the idea of a 'now' being different from the past and the future is in conflict with special relativity. I further learned about Jim Hartle's work on a related topic (that however I still haven't looked up). I do not aim at explaining what 'existence' is, I was trying to understand your question, but it seems you don't want an answer anyhow. Then why are you wasting my time?

Giotis said...

Hello,

I personally don't understand why they are trying to derive the nature of time (which should be a universal concept)through SR. SR according to GR has local significance. GR on the other hand according to the principle of covariance is background independent.

Regards

ali said...

BTW, nice to see rauchen ist verboten in deutschland anymore.

Jason Dick said...

As for people asking questions that are answered on your very next slide, that strikes me as an indication that you're giving a good talk. It means they're both engaged and you've correctly anticipated their questions. Seems better to me to have them ask the question than wait for you to move on to another topic before noticing that the question wasn't answered.

Bee said...

Hi Jason,

If I were better at giving talks that might be the case. But if I get interrupted several times I tend to forget what I meant to say, and then later it will be missing. Also, I find it annoying too if I am in the audience, because most of the time I'd rather hear the speaker than the comments of others. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

“ Also, I find it annoying too if I am in the audience, because most of the time I'd rather hear the speaker than the comments of others. “


I understand the feeling. This is most annoying and defocusing when these questions take on more the form of a debate. Of course the solution for this is to announce you will make yourself available for a short time after the lecture, to answer both questions meant to clarify and those of dispute.

Best,

Phil

bellamy said...

Bee, two things. One, who cares if someone leaves? No expectations. Two, at the beginning, tell...ahem, I mean ASK everyone to come forward. People often need direction.