Tuesday, January 26, 2010

On Workshops, Presentations and Conferences

Somehow I managed to survive the past two weeks of non-stop presentations. After my five presentations in Makassar, I flew directly to Java for five presentations in Yogyakarta and five more in Solo – which amounts to 2 weeks, 3 cities and 15 presentations. It was exhausting, but also surprisingly rewarding and entertaining.

One thing I like about presenting in Indonesia is that my audiences seem to genuinely appreciate what I’m sharing with them. Participants thanked me profusely for workshops I gave on Communication Repair Strategies, Learning Styles and Learning Strategies, Using Peer Reviews, and Developing Vocabulary Through Reading. In my mind, this is all very basic stuff, but to many of the participants this was cutting edge material. As an added ego-booster, many participants expressed an interest in having me come present at their own schools or universities or in contacting the RELO office so they can get an ELF of their own in the future.

I’ll also admit that I kind of like being treated as a celebrity guest speaker. I get chauffeured from venue to venue in a university sponsored car, I get taken out to dinner and shows and get put up in hotels, I pose for hundreds of photos with seminar participants, and I’m lavished with tokens of appreciation at closing ceremonies. I’m much more comfortable with this kind of celebrity than with, say, posing for photos with random strangers just because I’m a bule. At least at these seminars the people I’m posing with know who I am - even those who didn’t understand a single word of my presentation. And the gifts of appreciation are always interesting - in Yogya I received a beautiful handmade batik scarf while in Solo I received a giant framed painting of Krishna on a piece of furry goat skin!

When presenting in Indonesia there is always a high risk of cultural or organizational misunderstanding. In fact, this is pretty much guaranteed to happen so you might as well just go with the flow and try to see the humor in all of it. For instance, when I unpacked my photocopied handouts for my first set of workshops at a university in Yogya, I discovered that my handouts for two entirely different workshops had been stapled together. An assembly line team was then promptly formed to take the handouts apart and re-staple them in the right groupings. As another example, when Sarah and I showed up at a vocational high school in Solo prepared to present on Managing Large Classes and Using Peer Reviews, we were greeted with a huge banner that announced we were presenting on Developing Vocabulary Through Reading and Reading and Critical Thinking, topics that we had presented on the day before at Sarah’s university. We apologized to the audience and proceeded with our planned presentations. I also had to deal with brief power outages, impromptu opening and closing speeches, and having to cut a presentation short.

None of that, however, compares to the shocks I experienced at my first Indonesian conference last month when I attended the TEFLIN (Teachers of English as a Foreign Language in Indonesia) Conference in Malang. When Indonesian moderators take questions from the audience, they are oddly methodical about it. They will ask for 5 questions total or a question from the left, the right and the middle of the room or a question from one man and one woman. The people asking the questions then ramble on with ridiculously long questions while the moderators write everything down. The answering of these questions doesn’t begin until all the questions have been collected by the moderator. This question and answer time is so important that once when Bill Grabe, the reading guru, was presenting and the program was running late, the moderators cut off his hour-long plenary talk after about 15 minutes to make sure that the participants had plenty of time to ask questions. And you know what they asked questions about? About the material on the slides he didn’t have time to present because he got cut off! He was none too pleased.

But my personal favorite amusing story comes from my own presentation at TEFLIN. It was my first conference presentation ever and the other four lectures from UNG who also traveled to Malang for the conference had promised to attend. My workshop went well, but I was slightly baffled and hurt that none of the other UNG lecturers actually showed up - until I got this text message from one of them: “I set my reminder, I set my alarm clock in my mobile phone, I have a promise with you, I do want to go to your presentation, and the reality is I couldn’t. It was raining just now. Please forgive me Julianne…” And that’s when I learned that some Indonesians really do stop everything when the rains come.


  1. Although I believe in the "When in Rome..." adage, I think Grabe should have prefaced the answer to each of the questions with a terse (but not rude), "If I had not been cut off, you would have heard information and seen slides about exactly this since this was part of the presentation I prepared."

    As someone who's planning on applying for an ELF for next year, I want to say "thank you" for working so hard to make a good impression for those who will come after you.

    And have you decided yet on whether to renew?

  2. I am so interested in your presentations. How do these get arranged? By your university? I, too, love presenting and I want to get into that more. I just got back from Korea where I taught a 20-hour teacher training seminar called Teaching Speaking and Listening to Young Learners. It was a blast! Lots of preparation, but a successful result in the end! Bravo to you for your great work!

  3. William, thank you for your nice comment! I'm sure you will be a fantastic ELF. Please keep me posted on your application status. Hopefully we'll get to meet each other at the orientation in Washington in August! I'll be renewing for Indonesia - see my newer post titled "New Year, New Attitude" for more details on that decision.

  4. Jeanne, glad to hear your teacher training seminar in Korea went well! That must have been a lot of work. I didn't realize that you also had experience teaching young learners. I imagine it must be a whole new ballgame from teaching college aged adults!

    The series of workshops I just did were all arranged by my RELO (Regional English Language Officer) at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta. It's nice because all I have to do is show up and present. All the arrangements are done for me. Maybe you should think about becoming an ELF too!