Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Back in the saddle

Once a year my workplace runs a sustainable development week and it's usually held at the University Institute of Technology at Mantes-la-Jolie in the greater western Paris area. To my Kiwi eyes it's rather limited in its theming and presentation. To attend is to sit in an amphitheatre which is half empty with no real visual theming of sustainability. One then spends hours listening to a procession of talking heads with examples of 'death by powerpoint'.

The setup of the presentation area meant everyone was tied to using the microphone by the lecturn and scrolling through slide presentations. No walking about, certainly no connecting with the audience. Many researchers, businessmen and professors are poor communicators, even worse motivators and seem obsessed with trying to fit as many tiny words as possible on one slide.

I don't enjoy this French way of doing things. Everyone does it the same here. It requires no imagination or innovation. They speak as if they are 'presenting a written paper'. They really don't need an audience to be there at all. I just couldn't do that. I don't believe it's the best way to get your messages across but everywhere in France it's like that.

I watched a group of male students at the back of the room trying to hoon their way through the speeches. They were impolite, juvenile and not paying any attention. As an 'older person' I am becoming quite intolerant of people who have no manners and who can't be bothered applying themselves. In France students' education is virtually free. They don't realise how privileged they are, especially when France now has so much debt.

The programme for the day consisted of presentations from a number of Industrial 'Chairs' and partnerships with other organisations in the region who are involved in providing study opportunities, such as the Bergerie Nationale for agriculture and animal husbandry. We then had a number of researchers and PhD students talking about their projects. It was a great opportunity for them to practice communicating and presenting and profiling what was interesting in their work.

Some of that was a little more interesting but I still found it hard going sitting through it all in French. Some speak so indistinctly and fast it's quite impossible. None of them were projecting their voices so they relied on the microphone to do it for them. It meant I appreciated the clear speakers like Hanene from Tunisia. French is widely spoken there.

Students were alerted to the fact that they are given opportunities to contribute to the library of written information and that they are expected to do so. Some faces looked a bit startled. Why wouldn't you want to publish your efforts, even modestly, in our little collection of papers and articles, print and online on our various websites. And then it was my turn to talk about one of the aspects of my work - creating online teaching resources on websites.
To many of the students and teachers I was unknown. I spend most of my time in one room at my workplace which is spread over so many sites it's impossible to gain an appreciation for all that goes on and who who does what so opportunities like that day are important.

I decided to commence in French to gain their attention and then switch to English so that I would feel more confident presenting for the first time in France. My style was unlike any other speaker for the day, a different type of energy.

Feedback described me as strong, punchy, clear, really good. In short, it woke everyone up, surprised a few and was appreciated by others. Good enough to feel happy with my efforts. In future I will try to produce my slides in French, where possible and deliver in mostly English. I work in an environment that should be somewhat international so English is acceptable. I'll see how I go.

A two-hour seminar followed by Dr Marie-Laure Lambert-Habib who is from the Paul Cezanne University at Aix-en-Provence. She was speaking about a study done on the vulnerability of coastal systems along the Mediterranean. The implications of climate change and rising sea-level is thought-provoking. There are so many settlements, luxury homes, unregistered buildings along the Cote d'Azure form Marseilles. There is the wildlife and lifestyle of the Camargue at the mouth of the Rhone. What must be done with all this? How might it be managed? Tough decisions must be taken. People will lose money, beaches may disappear, buildings will be abandoned.

The more you know the more sobering it is and the implications for coastal landscapes, such as the whole of New Zealand, should be practically planned for now. The real issues we need to face are not the ones in the day to day spotlight.


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