Where Is My Poster



The above is a conference poster from the Akita JET Program's 2011 Akita Skills and Development Conference, which took place on October 12 at the Akita Prefectural Education Center.

I have never been to a conference of any kind where less than 2/3 of the speeches were a giant waste of time. This I attribute not to the lack of individual speaking talent, though surely some of the poor saps who were thrust up to the mike didn't have any, but more to the difficult nature of figuring out what the hell to say. The JET Program brings a hundred foreigners to Akita each year. Each of these people needs to be a native English speaker and have a four year degree, and seeing as most people wouldn't leave a decent full-time job to be an assistant teacher in Japan for a year or three (what are you, crazy?), most JETs are recent college graduates. That much, at least, we know.

But what else can one say about the program's participants? Seeing as they're all assistant English teachers, surely they'd be interested in how to teach English better, right? I suppose that's true, as far as it goes. But how far is that? Once you pick a topic, you have a problem, because half the people in the room teach junior high school or elementary, and the other half teach high school. Roughly 20% have been in the JET Program several years and heard the same talk a couple of times in the past. Another 20% of the attendees are sleepy, hung over, or both. And that's not to mention the few particularly well-prepared people who studied education at the university and are no doubt bored by simplistic attempts to summarize in fifty minutes what it took them four years to learn. All of this just goes to show that no matter what the topic, most of the listeners don't particularly care about it.

But what can you do, complain? Dear conference organizer, I have a problem. You want me to give a speech, but everyone has differing interests. Nobody gives half damn what I say! That's one thought, but it borders on arguing with reality, which is rarely productive. It's better to ignore reality than argue against it, which explains all the hung over folks. And anyway, all hope is not lost. By definition, great speakers can dredge interest out of even zombie-like audiences. Which brings us to my preferred conference listening strategy: When choosing what talks to go to, forget about the topic. Only go to talks delivered by oratorical masters or your good friends. If your friends happen to be oratorical masters, great, but if not, ask them obnoxious questions to show them that you care. In my experience, if you can get one or two decent speakers in a day, tally the day up in the "win" category. If you're the drinking type, get down to the bar in case the following day proves less productive. And don't forget to buy your friend a beer in apology for screwing with his talk.