Monday, March 12, 2007

I gave a talk

I arrive at the airport and take a cab to the hotel where the CLE seminar is being held. My Tunisian driver seems to want to discuss religion, so I arrange for him to take me back to the airport after my 30-minute talk. (And we do discuss religion. He is Muslim and has a lot of opinions about what he calls the three holy-book religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It turns out to be a great conversation.)

I enter the hotel and am directed to the wrong floor. When I finally arrive at the right check-in table, the attendant hesitates when I tell her I am one of the speakers.

She just looks at me. "I'm Wayne Schiess," I say.

"Oh. You look like a student."

This is unusual. I don't have my tie on yet, but I haven't been mistaken for a student in many years, and the last time was when I was wearing a baseball hat and a backpack--at the law school.

I decline my complimentary set of materials: a thousand pages of bad legal writing by lawyers donating their time. (The first chapter I happen to turn to has multiple sentences of more than 100 words each--on the first page.) The big, durable binders are nice, but you've got to find a way to unobtrusively throw away a four-inch stack of paper.

I go in to listen. Someone is going long. Five minutes over time. Now ten. Eventually nearly 15 minutes over time. Why do I care? Because I'm the last speaker of the day, and I have to end at 4:45 or people will be annoyed. They can't report more CLE time than the course is accredited for, so they will resent it if I go past the ending time. I am to start at 4:15, but if I don't get started until 4:25, I still better end by 4:45.

So now my talk will have to be 20 minutes instead of 30. Why do I care? I'm not getting paid anyway. But for some odd reason, my ego gets lathered up and I think "They fly me in and pay my expenses--93 dollars for cab fare alone--and I get to speak for just 20 minutes?" I try to shrug it off.

Now I'm on the dais, waiting for the person before me to finish. Oops. The moderator set the countdown timer, forgot to start it, and left for 30 minutes. Now this speaker can go long without even knowing it and can cut into my time even more. Try not to care, Wayne.

Besides, no one here cares about ejusdem generis anyway. That's right. I'm speaking on one of the canons of construction: an obscure yet recurring character in the drama of contractual interpretation. I decided on it because I thought my materials and my originally planned remarks would be too basic. Surely no one will know much about ejusdem generis.

But what if they do? What if this talk is, in fact, too basic? I have a mini-panic attack on the dais less than 10 minutes before my talk. Now I begin to hope I'll have only 15 minutes.

Wait a minute. First you're mad about losing speaking time, and now you're happy? Get control of your emotions, Wayne. If they hate it, they'll mark you down on the course evaluations. You'll never be asked back, and that's fine. No more giving up 8 hours of your life to give a free 30-minute talk.

But last time you got a call from someone who heard you at the seminar and who wanted to hire you for a paid seminar. Calm down.

Okay, he's wrapping up.

Wow. I'm about to give a talk on legal drafting at 4:15. Asking for trouble. Tired audience, dry topic. Why do I get put last? Because I'm a superstar speaker? The pre-talk adrenalin is really pumping now, and my mind is all over the place.

Hey, I'm going to have nearly 25 minutes. Okay, let's see what I can do with ejusdem generis in 23 minutes.

It's a 23-minute performance. Add a joke here, a self-deprecating remark there. Look at me--I'm a word-nerd, see? Comment dryly on hereunder. Point out a that-which error in an example text. Focus on the near futility of drafting around ejusdem generis or any canon of construction. Get them laughing. Talk fast. I'm about out of time. Plug my blog? No. Done.

Now six people want to talk to me. "Is and/or a good construction?" "Do you give public seminars I can sign up for?" "I enjoyed your remarks."

This, I remind myself to soothe my ego, is how it usually goes. I can handle myself in front of an audience. I do okay.

The performance high wears off. I get back to the airport after discussing Islam. I sit and read.

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