Why People Don’t Want Their Conference Presentations Filmed… and Maybe Why You Shouldn’t Too

Posted on April 10, 2017

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This may seem like an odd post coming from someone like me, who have filmed over 1200 conference presentations and put them online, but I am a firm advocate that not everyone should have their conference presentations filmed. And no, it is not because of some snarky answer like, ‘because they suck at speaking’ or some other form of snide comment like that. No, there are some very serious reasons why not every conference presentation should be filmed and put online.

Let me tell you how this post got started… on Twitter. When I mentioned on Twitter yesterday that not everyone wanted their conference presentations filmed at the upcoming CIfA conference (a service we are offering to most speakers), someone commented,

‘…can’t believe people say no – either you believe in your data or not’

It is easy to see why most everyone would respond that way because there are a ton of advantages to filming conference presentations. To cover just a few:

Advantages for presenters

  • you will reach 2x, 3x, 100x, 10,000x as many people as who saw it in person. The last might seem like an exaggeration but it is not. Most presentations at a specialists conference are seen by a few dozen people, if that, and will be seen by a few hundred online. For presentations on something like TED it will be a few hundred people in the audience in California but millions online;
  • it gives you a chance to improve. Like watching game footage for sports, watching your presentation can help you see what you do well and what you need to improve.

Advantages for the sector (whatever sector that might be) and fellow professionals

  • quicker dissemination of ideas. Depending on the sector you are in, and the journal you try to publish in, it can be anywhere from six months to years before a peer reviewed publication sees the light of day. There can be a significant knowledge lag and conference presentations are a good way to get this out sooner but they are limited to those that can see it (more on that below). With video it makes it out to most everyone sooner;
  • ACCESSIBILITY – not everyone can attended conferences for various reasons- child/family care, disability, or the most common one – no money. Video recording presentations helps out a lot of your fellow professionals who can’t attend that specific conference;
  • conference attendees – if a conference has multiple concurrent sessions, inevitably the two presentations you want to see are at the same time. With video you can see both and don’t have the constant feeling that your are missing out on what is happening, even when you are there.

So Why Wouldn’t You Want to be Filmed?

Those are just a few of the reasons ‘why’ and they sound amazing, right? So why would anyone not want their presentation filmed? Why would I advocate not everyone being filmed? Well, let’s start with the most serious but very, very, very rare cases.

Death, Life in Prison, Career Ending

Death? Being a bit over the top there, aren’t I? No, read past that headline as these are actual outcomes that some people face. There was an archaeologist who gave a presentation, at a conference I was at, about being gay in Archaeology and everyone was asked not to tweet about it. The sad fact is that in 70+ countries it is illegal to be gay or undertake any aspect of a homosexual relationship. The map below, from Wikipedia, highlights gay rights in different countries. The orange and red countries range in punishment for being gay from prison to the death penalty. In case you glanced over that last sentence- homosexuality can result in death. That archaeologist works in one of those countries where he/she could have faced prison or death (yes, I am being vague here to protect them).

You really can’t do Middle Eastern and/or African Archaeology and be openly gay/bi/really anything that is not extreme heterosexual on the spectrum. Also, even if you are straight some of these countries have “morality” laws which makes it illegal to discuss it.

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported. Author- Various (Initial version by Silje)

Even in those blue countries being gay could be career ending. If you would have seen the talk by that archaeologist you would know that even in “enlighten countries”, working for “progressive and liberal employer” like a University, being gay can still be career ending, even in 2017. That is right, at those, what some of my Facebook “friends” call ‘dens of godless sodomites, hell bent on brainwashing our children with the liberal gay agenda’ being gay can damage your career, or end it.

This has been extremely rare. Of the 1400+ presentations I have filmed/offered to film only two have said no for these very serious reasons. One being the above mentioned example and the other being that the presentation was contradicting the local political narrative. No, not as in they didn’t like the take on the finds (there can be friendly disagreement about interpreting results), as in, they presented data that contradicted religious dogma. Again, I am being purposely vague to protect the person but there are still plenty of countries in the world where free speech is a luxury, not a right.

Obviously, this is not for every topic but in some cases people want to reach out to others to inform them of issues, thus the conference presentations, but it needs to be in a more controlled manner, one that does not end in death of themselves or their careers.

Harassment

This is probably even rarer as I have only been asked once to edit a video (it still went up) to remove a comment because they were afraid it would get the pseudoscientists/conspiracy nut jobs, coming out of the woodwork. Again, for most people this is not an issue but for some they really don’t want to have to deal with any more backlash to their research than they already receive, which is a lot.

Stalking

I have never had this happen with the videoing. However, in the past I have had someone ask that their name not be put online because they had a stalker. Since then I have always been aware of this issue and can see how it could be an issue with filming.

Most Common Reason: Presentation Anxiety

All the examples so far has been rare and are pretty specific to certain topics. Anytime you touch on social-political-religious issues it gets messy. However, something that affects all subjects is Glossophobia, that is a fear of public speaking. Depending on the study, 5-15% of the population is seriously affected by it (paywalled review article), though maybe 20-60% of the population experience moderate discomfort (depending on the study).  Please ignore that internet meme that 75% of people have extreme fear of public speaking.

At any given conference/session we end up filming 90-95% of the presentations and that other 5-10% basically comes down to this reason- presentation anxiety. Imagine you have a fear and then someone offers to record you experiencing that fear so you can relieve your moment of terror over and over again. Would you take it?

If you do not have a fear of public speaking this may seem a bit over blown. It is not; it sucks. Your hands shake, which is probably a good thing because it wicks away the sweat (though it does nothing for the rest of your body parts that sweat), except it means you can’t hold notes to read from as everyone will think you are having a stroke because the papers will shake so much. Your heart is pounding and feels like it is going to explode. You have knots in your stomach which either feels like a knife to the gut or like throwing up. I personally blackout through most of my presentations. It is like getting a panic attack.

There are ways to deal with this but it requires training. Something that in most cases is not given, even though it is a key component in most people’s careers. Or when training is given it is inadequate (half hour talk by teacher/grad student, who, while well meaning, is not an expert in public speaking). I have only ever seen one training session on public speaking delivered for archaeologists by professionals (it is happening on May 20th. Good job Lorna!).

Don’t force people to be filmed

There are a couple of other reasons why people would not want to be filmed, like presenting in a second language, but I think you get the idea. Some topics are still too taboo in some parts of the world and for some it is a living hell already; why would you want to make it worse?

So if you are ever planning a conference or wondering why not all talks are filmed, etc. just remember it’s complicated. Not everyone can present comfortably and carefree on camera so don’t make them.

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