I wrote the following a few years ago immediately after three of the most uncomfortable and, frankly, pointless days of my academic career. I repeat them here to bring a little cheer, plus note of caution, to any readers out there. As with everything I write, these top tips are borne from painful experience.
Top Tips for a successful keynote lecture
1. Make sure the lecture is scheduled to start at 9.00am the day after your daughter starts her first day at a new school (or, alternatively, replace with any important family event for which you have promised to be present).
2. Make sure the conference is at least 1500 miles from home and somewhere that requires at least two flights with a seemingly impossibly tight changeover in Athens.
3. Make sure that, in order to accommodate 1 and 2 above, the only flight you can get involves flying overnight and arriving at the conference venue just before you are due to speak.
4. Convince yourself that 3 is not a problem as you are really just as young and sprightly as you were 20 years ago.
5. Make sure your first flight is delayed by at least 45 minutes, so that any anxiety over changeover in Athens is heightened at least tenfold.
6. Obviously (and this one should go without saying), on no account finish your presentation before getting on the plane.
7. Drink sufficient alcohol at Heathrow to ease your fear of flying and to ensure that your brain is like scrambled egg, just to make finishing the presentation so much more stressful.
8. When you go through customs at Athens, make sure the customs officer’s attention is drawn to the can of shaving gel in your hand luggage which her counterpart at Heathrow missed. If you are really lucky, she will then make you empty all your hand luggage, take ages inspecting your laptop and giving you a lecture on the hazards of Wilkinson Sword gel and how you should know what 100ml looks like (I mean, it’s not like you have a connection to catch, is it?)
9. Arrive at your destination airport and realise that the conference venue is further away than you thought and you don’t have enough euros for a taxi.
10. Arrive at the conference venue with sufficient time to splash cold water on your face, look in the mirror and convince yourself that the spaghetti bolognaise stain on your shirt (gained from an unexpected spot of mid-flight turbulence) shouldn’t be too noticeable to any delegates from row three and beyond. Don’t worry, everyone will be too busy wondering how you got your shirt so creased as to be thinking about your table manners).
11. Thank whichever god you worship that the air conditioning seems to have failed, and rejoice in the fact that, midway through your presentation, your body is glistening like a bodybuilder on display, albeit you don’t have the muscles and your shirt is clinging to every part of your torso.
12. Thank your god once more that there is no podium, meaning that you have nothing to cling onto to disguise your lack of sleep jitters.
13. During the presentation, pray that you won’t be asked any tricky questions on the one slide out of the forty you have which contains the most contentious piece of research.
14. Pray for divine inspiration when someone asks you a tricky question about the one slide out of the forty you have which contains the most contentious piece of research.
15. Make sure the conference finishes on your wedding anniversary. This is particularly important if you have been married for 16 years and have been absent for more than half of them.
16. In order to combat the possible negative effects of 15, make sure you book a flight home at 6.00 am on the final day, meaning that you will have to get up at 4.00am to get to the airport in time (which is, of course, much further away than you originally thought – see point 9 above). Of course, 4.00 am is what was 2.00 am two days ago, but that doesn’t really matter, because having lost a night’s sleep already this week, your body hasn’t got a clue where it’s at anyway.
17. Convince yourself that this really was worth a single line on your CV.