Speaking styles and speaking spaces

Having given four talks over the past two weeks – two on The Birth of Territory and two on the Foucault’s Last Decade project – I thought I’d write a little about the different spaces I spoke in, and how these change the style of presentation. Most of the time when you are a visiting speaker you don’t know the room you’ll be in, nor the size of audience, which can make it tricky to know how to prepare. Certain types of talks work better in different spaces. And occasionally I’ve been in a situation where I expected one kind of room/audience and got something entirely other. So there was one ‘public lecture which has been widely advertised in the local press’ that turned out to have an audience of about eight people. We moved to another smaller room for a more seminar-type atmosphere, and I had to tone down the talk, its rhetoric and stridency – it was on the ‘war on terror’ – to fit that room, but to do this as I went since there was no time to revisit the notes. Another time I’d prepared a much more intimate type talk for a smaller audience only to be ushered into a room filled with an entire MA year who had been dragooned into attending.

For these talks in Melbourne, I was giving the same two talks twice each. But even though I didn’t change the talks between events, they still felt very different – partly as even with a text there are different ways of presenting it. With the talks on The Birth of Territory I didn’t write a new paper, but just had a sequence of powerpoint slides to talk to. I say a lot that isn’t on the slides, but they provide enough of a cue for me not to need notes. The first, at Monash, was in a seminar type room, but it was one of those rooms where you cannot see the screen and the audience at the same time – the projector was onto the screen behind the speaker, but there was no smaller monitor for the speaker. When I teach I don’t have separate notes and rely on being able to read off the monitor screen for any quotes. Not being able to see the screen makes this difficult unless you either print the notes off or continually turn to look at the screen. Why teaching rooms are designed this way I’m not sure. I also maybe made a mistake of remaining seated – it was a small room and I felt that standing would mean people very close to me would feel somewhat overshadowed. But as more people came in a bit late and stood at the back this made it hard for them to see. I was aware of this but didn’t change it. As a consequence it felt a bit stilted to me.

The second talk on the book, at RMIT, was rather different. A big lecture room but instead of rows of seats it had lots of small tables that groups sat around. There were screens on three walls, a monitor screen for me, and an auto cue screen half way across the room. Everywhere I looked I could see the projection of the slides and so was able to dispense with notes entirely, look at the audience and I thought it went well.

The next two talks were on Foucault, and on La société punitive. They were much more reliant on a written text, and the powerpoint was written afterwards – a couple of diagrams and tables, plus most of the long quotes. The first, at Monash, was in a boardroom – a big table and plush chairs. Again, the screen was an issue – the computer was fixed in one place, with only a projection and no monitor. Nor was there a remote, so I had to pull the mouse cord as far as it would go, and navigate upside down. Not the best set up. I could have spoken from the lectern, but for a small workshop group this would have been inappropriate. Some very good discussion afterwards, where I was able to expand and speculate on the material and also discuss the wider project.

The last was at University of Melbourne. I was imagining another small workshop group for this, but there were around 70 people, and I was told they turned several more away due to lack of space. I was standing at the front with a lectern, but the computer was at the back of the room in the corner. The computer did not have a remote control either. This meant I had to have someone changing the slides for me on visual cues – many thanks Emily! I also felt that the talk wasn’t quite right for such a large audience, so I had to improvise as I went, summarising and discussing rather than just reading. There were some excellent questions and I was again able to talk about the wider project.

I always practice talks before I give them – speaking them out loud and making sure the powerpoint is sequenced right and all the cues are there in the text/notes, but it’s always very different giving it as a talk to a live audience than at home or in a hotel room. And giving two talks twice each, to quite different audiences in quite different rooms is also interesting. I did record the talks, and plan to upload the recordings when I have a chance to edit them – I do this using Audacity to trim the start and finish, normalise the volume, and generally tidy things up. I’ll post the links here when I’m done.

This entry was posted in Books, Conferences, Foucault's Last Decade, Michel Foucault, Territory, The Birth of Territory, Universities. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Speaking styles and speaking spaces

  1. Pingback: Foucault’s La Société punitive – audio recordings of Melbourne lectures | Progressive Geographies

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