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To the Guy Who Presented Before Me at the Conference Yesterday

The thing about your presentation is that, well, it depressed me. It depressed me mainly because nobody seemed to realize it was a salesman’s pitch, peppered with little bits of personal experience.

No, I don’t believe you actually made that gorgeous powerpoint. No, I don’t believe you’re a serious academic. No, I didn’t hear one revolutionary idea about teaching in your talk. I heard lots of interesting things, and indeed, the technology you’re trying to sell probably has some use. But it was obvious from the outset that you were out to sell something.

As soon as you posed your caveats at the beginning of your talk, a red light went off for me. The caveats included things like TEFL teachers having input into curriculum, and students being actually motivated to attain fluency in English. Sure, some people are lucky. But most aren’t, and indeed there are all kinds of reasons for this… some of them pedagogical, as I argued in my own talk.

Anyway, I can’t blame you. All complex ecosystems have parasites, right? What shocked me was not even how blatant you were, nor how blatant your friend was in supporting this business transaction of yours — the softball pitch of a question he offered as the first one was a honey of a setup, setting the frame for the audience as, “Well, I’m convinced, and let’s not talk about theory or problems with your claims.” What surprised and saddened me was how nobody seemed to “get it”; they were looking at a parasite, but they thought they were seeing, let’s say, health intestinal microflora. It was as if nobody could tell that your whole presentation was, in fact, a well-practiced sales pitch. Sales pitches may have their place in the world, but at an academic conference? Really? Seriously?

Because my understanding was that academic conferences are for talking about ideas, arguing about theories, and discussing things on an intellectual level. Not only did your talk not resemble an academic presentation, but it also failed to generate that kind of discussion. The whole frame of the thing was, “This is a technology you should buy, this is why ‘it works’, and therefore you should buy it.”

That’s not to say I didn’t learn something from your presentation, mind you. I learned (or relearned) a few things:

My own talk had a much less beautiful powerpoint–but then, I designed it myself and wasn’t paid to make my presentation, as I strongly suspect you were–but I did also learn that making a beautiful PowerPoint can make a big difference. Next time, if I there is a next time for me and academic talks, I’ll be trying to design a PowerPoint as gorgeous as yours. That, at least, was something that I learned that wasn’t fundamentally discouraging.

We can use the same tools that businessmen have designed and refined… but we can use them for good.

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