Oh boy. I have given a lot of talks and taught a pretty good number of classes in my career, but yesterday was special. Yesterday I had a a guest lecture to give in a graduate course on a topic that I had not thought about in a while. In fact, it was really grad school when I last was immersed in this particular subject, but your past follows you and I'm still regarded as knowing my shit in this realm.
Well well. Sometimes you take for granted that you can pick up where you left off. With my own lecture to prepare for the morning and the guest lecture to prep for the afternoon, I'll admit I took some short cuts. I used some old slides and thought I would hop right back on that bike.
It was the perfect storm. I tried to simplify the topic but found myself in that zone between not simple enough to ignore certain complexities, but not complex enough to really get into them. The first 20 minutes went fine and then the train started to derail. I started having to rely on the slides for my cues (never good when they're more than visual support) and then shit got bad. My explanation started conflicting with the text and then there was no stopping where it was headed.
PLS gives his guest lecture.
I managed to group my poop enough to eventually get something coherent across, but for about 5-10 minutes it was painful. Twelve grad students and four faculty members watched me flop about like a boated marlin and the more I tried to untangle the mess, the worse it got. I finally backed up, bagged the text on the slides and used the chalk board to save myself, but at that point I had lost my credibility and it was just an exercise in self preservation. I limped through the last half of the lecture and was mercifully put out of my misery by the clock.
It's been a long time since I bombed a talk. A really long time. But I did it spectacularly yesterday. In some ways it's a good reminder to make sure I take care of the details and not assume I can wing things when I'm short on time. And maybe the silver lining will be that people stop asking me to do guest lectures.