Tuesday, February 10, 2004
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Conference Survival

One thing they don't teach you in school is, what to do at a conference. Some people never seem to figure this out, and in fields (like hypertext research) where conferences are central, that's a real problem. Susan Karlin, who is both an entertainment writer and a tech journalist, contributes some fine tips in the new Tekka.

I learned the essentials of conference work at DuPont, chiefly from observing a complete stranger, Alan Huang (then at AT&T) at a Gordon Conference on optical computing. The key lessons all came during an evening discussion in the lounge of the residence hall, in which Huang and a senior manager from IBM went toe-to-toe on the direction of research in the field. Important work happens away from the auditorium: that's the first lesson. Huang crammed 60-odd slides into his 20-minute talk, an extraordinary performance that captivated everyone and that packed far more information into each minute than the expensively-prepared canned presentations we made at DuPont. I only saw Huang speak once, but I went home and completely reformed by speaking style. And Huang, who cannot have been much older than I, was already talking about his responsibility for the direction people were taking in the field, for not leading people into barren areas because they were currently fashionable. That responsibility was breathtaking: here I was, all outfitted with my nifty doctorate and my office at the Experimental Station, and nobody had told me, "It's time to stop thinking like a student."