What’s Hot… Not.

I’ve been to a lot of conference presentations. I’ve been to presentations where the content was very out of date (a 1998 presentation on Gopher usage in the campus library), presentations that have contained factual errors, presenters that have mispronounced common words (yes folks, .gif is pronounced "jif" regardless of how you or I think it should be pronounced), and presentations in which I didn’t agree with the opinions of the presenters. In most cases, mainly since I’m a presenter myself, I haven’t complained. Crud happens. It happens to all of us. And presenters always seem to be at the bottom of said hill the crud is rolling down. (Projector problems anyone?) But a presentation I sat in on yesterday crossed a line and I’ve got to say something about it.

Here’s the title and description of the session:

What’s Hot in Library Technology
In this session you will discover how to make emerging trends in technology make your library come alive. We will discuss the basics of web browsing interfaces, trends in communicating online such as chatting and video conferencing, we will also look at blogs, great websites, web 2.0 and virtual worlds such as Second Life. The session will wrap-up with a Q & A session.

The session was in two parts with a break in the middle. It sounded like an interesting presentation so I went. Heck, I might pick up something new. I usually do. If nothing else I might learn something from how the speaker presents the material. What I got was my jaw on the table for an hour. (The second hour was very different so I’m going to just talk about the first half.)

The presenter introduced herself and started to go over her agenda. She quickly asked wether the audience were PC or Mac users. Everyone I noticed indicated PCs and she acknowledged that the room was PC dominant. She explained that she was a Mac user and that she was going to focus on Macs and cover them a lot since it "would be good for the audience to understand the differences and know the history of Macs vs. PCs." I got a little nervous at this point as I didn’t see how that fit into the topic as advertised but then again, I’ve done similar things to help people get the larger picture of an issue so I sat back to see what she’d do. Little did I know what we were in for.

What we all got for the better part of the hour was an anti-Microsoft, anti-Windows verbal screed.

Early on the presenter was comparing Mac vs. PC hardware and said that Macs were better because they were "all one machine" and therefore "had no CPU." (She meant that many Macs had the CPU and monitor in one unit instead of a separate CPU box and monitor but that’s not what she said.) Besides being a completely nonsensical statement, there are all-in-one PCs and there are Macs with non-built in monitors. (Never mind that fact that all laptops of any type would fit into the all-in-one category.)

Next she pointed out how the Mac OS was shown by Steve Jobs to Bill Gates and then Bill Gates proceeded to "steal it" from Apple and develop windows. Ok, but didn’t Apple "steal" the idea of a GUI from Xerox PARC?

She mentioned Vista and how "it’s had so many problems" and that upgrading to it is difficult at best and that on a Mac you can just upgrade the OS without upgrading your hardware. (Yeah, let’s try to run OSX on a Mac Classic.) Meanwhile I was running Vista on my laptop in the back of the room.

Throughout the presentation she included videos to illustrate her points. Some she’s created herself ("on my Mac", implying that this was impossible on a PC), and some that she’s downloaded from YouTube (again "on my Mac" using some cool tools that she didn’t cover in any detail.) Every single video showed not only how much better Macs were (the Mac vs. PC guy over upgrading to Vista), but were specifically chosen, or edited, to make Bill Gates look like a bumbling, humorous, techno geek, and make Steve Jobs look like the second coming. The single worst video was a three-minute edited version (the original was about an hour long) of the recent joint interview of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates from the D5 conference. Other videos included the famous one of Gates getting a BSOD during a demo and a scene from Frasier.

At one point she did show an "early Windows commercial" which she believed was for "Windows 96 or something". (For those not sure, no such OS ever existed.)

I, nor anyone else in the room, should have expected nor deserved such a presentation. Macs may be cool technology but arguing over platform when, I assume, few in the room had any control over what platform their library uses, serves no purpose. Never mind that fact that such issues are not relevant to "What’s hot in library technology."

Even if the session had been titled "A comparison of Macs and PCs", "Windows vs. MacOS", "Why your library should use Macs", or even "Macs Kick Ass", what was presented was unprofessional at best, and did nothing more or less than a disservice to everyone in that room.

All conference presenters have a duty to the conference attendees to present their content in a balanced and professional manner. It’s ok to have an opinion and to advocate for that opinion but what happened here was neither a health dose of advocacy or excited evangelism. It was "I’m right, you’re wrong. I’m cool, you’re not. Get a life, get a Mac."

(My comments should in no way be construed as a criticism of anyone involved with the set up or running of the conference. Presenters are, in most cases, solely responsible for the content of their presentations and the organizers generally have no way of knowing exactly what any presenter will say. However, I would not recommend that this particular presenter be invited back next year.)

16 Replies to “What’s Hot… Not.”

  1. I would have been frustrated as well. Sounds fairly incompetent as a presenter.

    I get a little tired of the Mac vs. PC arguments since the people involved often are expressing a personal preference and rarely back up either side with statistics and studies.

    Not to say there isn’t data to back up either side, but it seems that it isn’t pulled out well during arguments.

    Too bad your time was wasted. 🙁

  2. It is a great disservice to the attendees to not present on the topic as advertised. One word of advice I would give to the conference organizers: REQUIRE your presenters to hand in their presentations ahead of time. That does two things: allows you to put them on the web in a timely manner (yes, you can wait until the conference is done) and allows you to review them to ensure they’ve stuck to the topic as advertised. I hope the conference folks were doing ongoing evaluations and that the attendees were honest in their feedback.

    I’m curious: did anyone walk out in disgust?

  3. No one walked out though I was tempted. To speculate as to why not would be making assumptions about the audience that would be inappropriate for me to voice.

    Someone else has asked about the second hour. It was much more on topic. I did at one point make it clear to the room that you did not need an iPod (yet another Apple product) to take advantage of podcasting which is the impression the speaker was giving until I said something.

  4. Ugh, sounds horrible. At one conference I went to, the original presenter of a session on computer security had to be replaced at the last second, and the person that replaced him was no where near the original topic (cyber-bullying – interesting, but not what I signed up for…) That wasn’t really the conference’s fault, but still annoying. This, on the other hand… just ugh.

    I’m thinking of putting together a “Linux for non-geeks” (maybe not that title) presentation for a conference sometime. I’m be sure to keep this post in mind while putting it together. I’m of the general opinion that it’s getting less and less important what OS you use, especially on a home computer. For libraries… well, you work with what you’ve got. I use Linux, Mac, and PC in the course of a day with very few problems.

  5. Did anyone comment on this part of the presentation, or ask any questions about the advertised topic? As a presenter, I for one want to know if I’m off-target, if I’m engaging in a tangent, if the audience is confused–whatever. How can we make our professional associations’ meetings better if we don’t give this feedback to each other directly? It sounds like a miserable experience, but I bet that the presenter would like to know that she really missed the mark.

  6. I can’t speak for anyone else but I did not personally speak to the presenter. It was a decision I agonized over as I was not the intended audience as I was another speaker and felt it wasn’t my place. I was also so stunned at the time I was afraid I wouldn’t be as polite as a face to face would have necessitated. Maybe I should have but that’s the decision I made and I’m stuck with it at this point.

  7. As a Mac user, I would have been more than tempted to berate her afterward for her lazy presentation style and lack of facts.
    Most people I know on either side of the fence usually act that way because they have no real life experience using multiple computing platforms.
    Sad, sad people.

  8. I’m just curious, most conferences include feedback forms at presentations that are collected at the end of the sessions, was no such thing available?

    I know I’ve been in similarly frustrating situations and was able to express it better anonymously through those forms rather than in person directly to the presenter.

  9. There was a feedback for for the whole conference but not individual presenters. I did speak privately with someone high up in the conference structure about my concerns.

  10. Blistering assessment, but I’m with you. Presenters have an obligation to deliver on the topic advertised. And they certainly must respect their audience.

  11. I was the “lazy” and “incompetent” presenter of the oh-so-blistering blog posting. But, I, too, have agonized over whether I should comment on this posting. But, in the spirit of professionalism I must.

    I want to acknowledge the length of time I spent on Apple/Mac wasn’t nearly what I had planned. Although it was not commented on, I was having deadly technology issues (naturally) that threw me into a tailspin, thus causing me to omit much of my original presentation. As planned, I had only about 8 mins for one Gates/Jobs video and about 8 for the rest of the PC/Mac content. But things got out of control and I had to wing it. I had no intent on slamming PCs, but in my nervousness it may have come out that way. And yes, I made the CPU comment you so accurately described and knew it was incorrect. I, in fact, do know Macs quite well, but my nervousness, anger and frustration over the way that the conference was organized (meaning, that what I requested was not followed-through on and I had zero help fixing it in a timely matter) caused me to melt down a bit and derail.

    This was my first time presenting at a conference of any kind so I was nervous as well. I learned a lot from the experience and am truly saddened that you didn’t feel comfortable calling me on the floor even while I was presenting. I would’ve appreciated that much more than this blog posting. I would hope you could understand and see the amount of time and effort I took to prepare for this presentation. No, it didn’t go nearly as I had planned and for that I am sorry, but in the spirit of professionalism I would truly hope you would approach me in person, rather than have me find out what a truly incompetent presenter you think I am (despite I do think the second session went very well). It was truly a treat to find this blog posting circulating on the SDLA Listserv. Nothing like a little public humiliation with my morning coffee.

    Of course I know there are MP3 players, that iPod isn’t the only one. I thought everyone knew that and shouldn’t have assumed. Of course I know the PC can do what the Mac does, but I wanted to show the audience something the majority had not seen before. I had many people tell me, after the session, that they learned a great deal. It’s unfortunate you found nothing positive to comment on.

    ~Danielle Becker

  12. I must say that not only am I glad the presenter whom you lambasted in your blog responded, but I’m also glad that she didn’t descend to your level by lofting insults and belittling you in order to make herself look better/smarter. If you couldn’t do her the courtesy of speaking to her face to face after her presentation or sometime during the conference, then you certainly shouldn’t have raked her over the coals in an online venue which she may or may not come across. That tacitic was not just unprofessional . . . it was downright cowardly. Shame on you, Michael.

  13. As you debated whether to comment on my post, I’ve been debating on whether to respond. I’ve gone through several drafts of this response which is why it’s taken it a while to appear.
    As to your request that I had spoken to you at the conference or during your presentation, I will agree at this time that I probably should have. So, why didn’t I? Well, I’ve never really liked it when there’s some person in the back of the room that attempts to take over the presentation. After about 15 minutes I felt that I would have turned into that person had I interjected whenever I felt I should have. Instead, I decided to sit it out and hope that my opinion would approve. Yes, your second hour went very well and I only commented on the iPod issue. When everything was over I had calmed down a bit. At that point, yes, I should have found you and spoken with you. I didn’t and I apologize. Unfortunately, the more I thought about it on the drive home and the next morning I felt I need to say something and my blog is where I do that. (This has raised some other similar issues in the recent past and I’ll probably eventually blog about the larger issues this raises in the future.)
    Your technical issues: I didn’t blog about those directly as they happen to all presenters. In fact, yesterday I was showing YouTube videos in my presentation on Second Life and many of them refused to play. In other words, almost the exact same problem you were having. This is why I did not, have not, nor would not, make that a center of any complaint about a presentation. This leads me to maybe the hardest part of my response to explain…
    I did not think that your presentation content (again, just the first hour) was a result of your technical problems, nor did I know this was your first conference presentation. Had I know this at the time (or, yes, if I had asked,) I would have been much more forgiving. But, by the fact that I unable to see that connection, I thought that this was your normal presentation style but just an inappropriate topic. (Does that make sense?) I’m sure it’s the oddest compliment that anyone has ever received. (So much so, that you may not even view it as one so let me try again…). In other words, I thought you were handling the technically difficulties with aplomb, working around them, and proceeding with your content despite the problems.
    What this all comes down to is larger issues of blogging that I, and many others are dealing with: when a single individual is blogging, whether the post if positive or negative, should the person/organization/company/ institution be involved in, or told about the post in advance? If someone has an answer to that question you’re welcome to post it here but maybe we could all think about it for a while and I’ll write a post about the issue.
    Danielle, if you would like to discuss this with me further off-blog, feel free to drop me a line.

  14. That is where you are incorrect, I tested all of my videos in the wee hours before my presentation in the hotel of the SDLA location and they all worked. My technology problems were with the sound, mainly, and I am unsure why my videos (however you got them, I don’t know as I have not posted my presentation) didn’t work for you is surprising (I tested them again before I sent this and they worked).

    I did omit other sections of my presentation that were not NOT on my powerpoint (I had plans to deviate from my powerpoint presentation from time-to-time, depending on how well the material I was presenting worked).

    As for my style, to this I cannot answer. You like me or you don’t, and in your case it is obvious you don’t. This was my first presentation to an audience other than the classes I teach so I was more than nervous. But, contrary to what you so gently reported-on I was, if anything, overly prepared.

    Personally, I thought that it would be interesting to other librarians that there is a whole wide world out there that isn’t PC as I gave a very similar talk to our staff/faculty here and it was well-received.

    Yes, it was a HUGE mistake to go into the history of the MAC vs. PC, but I find it to be important, it is clear that others do not. Had the interruptions not existed I would have picked-up on that and moved on to another topic. I missed the boat on that one.

    I can say that I learned a lot from this experience and know better how to handle similar situations moving forward. I was a bit too passionate about the MAC and enthusiastic to (hopefully) share some interesting things to others. But, had you spoken to me, personally, or challenged me in front of others (don’t think I didn’t notice you during my presentation) I would’ve appreciated it a great deal. Instead, you went to the organizers of the presentation to vent and possibly trash my future opportunities to present and apply the things I learned.

    Oh, and by the way, I could tell how my presentation went, it was a very mixed bag. But, I wasn’t lazy or incompetent, just inexperienced and we are all that at one time in our lives.

    Since your blog is one that gets passed through the SDLA listserv, I do think it would’ve been a professional courtesy to alert me before posting as my department (and other departments on campus) were talking about it before I even had a chance to read it.

    ~Danielle Becker

  15. Michael wrote:

    “What this all comes down to is larger issues of blogging that I, and many others are dealing with: when a single individual is blogging, whether the post if positive or negative, should the person/organization/company/ institution be involved in, or told about the post in advance?”

    This is the key question. We are people with opinions and ideas. We are also “journalists” and “documenters.” Given those things, what are our responsibilities? When can we speak our minds? When should we keep quiet?

    Commenting on someone else’s work (e.g., a presentation) is something we all struggle with, not only as bloggers but as working people. Knowing when and how to comment is tough. If there were an easy answer, there would be no need for complicate performance review processes in academia and corporations.

    Michael and Danielle, you both learned something from this experience, as did the rest of us. Let’s hope that we can take what we learned and move forward.

  16. To quote you, Mike “(My comments should in no way be construed as a  
    criticism of anyone involved with the set up or running of the  
    conference. Presenters are, in most cases, solely responsible for the  
    content of their presentations and the organizers generally have no  
    way of knowing exactly what any presenter will say. However, I would  
    not recommend that this particular presenter be invited back next  
    year.)”

    …this means that you are of no help in any way to anyone that would  
    want to agree or disagree with your point of view in any sort of  
    presentation. It seems to me that even with certain facts out of  
    place, you are more interested in tapping away at your Vista laptop  
    and slamming Macs instead of paying attention to anything positive  
    she had to say about anything.

    Instead of giving some sort of advice to this presenter, you would  
    prefer to target issues where you and your PC allies are better.  
    There were technology issues that seemed to be out of her control  
    regarding equipment and such that rendered her presentation to only  
    30 minutes instead of an hour.

    Your commentary seems to be non constructive and derogatory. Fine,  
    you and others object to her Mac Savvy attitude, but in no way do you  
    or any of your supporters provide any constructive advice as to what  
    to cover;  you only identify her mistakes. Mistakes, I add, that were  
    created under stress to fit an hour-long presentation into 30  
    minutes. Any thoughts?

    I’m also quite surprised that most of the comments to this blog are  
    unprofessional as well. Aren’t we all professionals? I suppose not,  
    reading the types of comments attached to this blog.

    Perhaps the “Traveli’n Librarian” needs to get out more and see  
    what’s out there besides Vista. I haven’t seen one thing from  
    Microsoft that has been innovative in the last 12 years.  Wow, you  
    brought up PARC as the birth of the GUI. Good for you, Mike!! You  
    watched Bob Cringley’s “Triumph of the Nerds”  BTW, that was 30 odd  
    years ago!! Why didn’t you bring up the typewriter? I’m pretty sure  
    all mainstream computers use hardware based on typewriters. Oh, and  
    both Apple and MS stole, took, appropriated (whatever) touch-screen  
    technology from Jeff Han perhaps. All technology and art comes from  
    the predecessor. No? Remember Picasso? “Bad artists copy. Great  
    artists steal.” MS doesn’t seem to have any  connection to art or  
    literature or even culture as far as I can tell. Boring.

    Apple has been way more innovative in operating systems, software and  
    hardware, where MS has been focusing on other interests, obviously in  
    the software space (less innovative). Vista stole many things from  
    the Mac OS and yes , Apple stole Widgets from Konfabulator, but MS  
    didn’t even try to come up with a clever name for the Widget idea  
    they stole from Apple; they chose “Gadgets” for their Dashboard like  
    tools. Wow, way to go MS! (and not executed as beautifully, I might  
    add.)

    I think what this presenter was trying to do was show how libraries  
    can use the Mac and other Apple products in the industry. There is no  
    reason libraries can’t. Maybe not today, or tomorrow. But if we stick  
    with the mainstream mediocrity, nothing will change. To recommend  
    that she shouldn’t present again is negative and uninspiring. Sadly,  
    most people have your narrow view.

    And others behind us get no where new.

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