Recently, I was at a conference and I heard a lecture. The who, what, when, where, and why don’t really matter.
What matter is the how.
One of the presenters simply read her paper as a presentation. Now, I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe this was a last-minute thing, maybe something changed, maybe she was told to do it that way. None of that alleviated my boredom. I was restless, begging for the clock to hurry up, and hoping for some kind of distraction like the fire alarm, so that I could graciously sneak out and find another lecture that would wake me back up.
Sadly, I cared about her topic. It had meaning to me. But I don’t go to lectures to hear the paper read to me. It would be much faster to just hand everyone a printed document and send us on our way. When I hear a speaker, I want to hear passion about the subject. She could have stumbled around with her words, poorly tried to make her point, but if could hear in her voice how much this meant to her, I would have appreciated it much more, and quite possibly learned something. I was looking to be entertained.
Traditionally, when we use the word entertain, we are talking about TV, or a live show, possibly a comedian. I now use the word in a stricter sense. You can entertain a thought. When you have guests at your house whom you feed and have conversation with, you are entertaining them. You don’t have to have a song and dance prepared for the occasion – you just have to occupy their minds with something that will keep them paying attention. Every interaction is entertainment, for good or ill.
People pay attention to other people, not so much to subjects. That’s how we begin to really like TV shows. We’re hooked by an interesting subject at first, but soon we don’t really care about the subject anymore, because we “fall in love” with the characters on the show. If the Fringe crew were to somehow come back as regular police investigating everyday crime, some people may complain just to complain, but they would get the same following that they had investigating Fringe events – because we’re paying attention to the characters, and their lives, and their interactions with each other.
This works the same way in real life. If you care about your subject, I’m interested in what you have to say, whether you are talking about quantum physics, ghosts, knitting, or carpentry. If you don’t care about your subject, you could be talking about everything that I have on my “list of interests”, and I still won’t be able to pay attention very long, because if you don’t care, I just don’t care. I want to know about you. Your passions, interests, hopes, dreams, plans, goals, thoughts, and more.
But if I ask you about these, and you pull out your bio and start reading it to me, I’m leaving.