My IFManual Experience

Carolyn Brown

Participating in Idea Festival might make me seem nerdy, but honestly, it was one of the best experiences of my life. On Saturday, April 28th, I gave a twenty-minute talk in front of about 50 adults and friends of mine as part of IFManual, and after several months’ worth of hard work, I really do think it paid off completely.

My talk actually began as an article back in November when I started noticing some sociological trends on Tumblr, where I spend much of my online time. My thesis was about the frequency of apology and humility as an after-effect of social media becoming popular – something I called “the panopticon of apology.” I quoted many anecdotal examples of people saying things like “I’m really dumb, just ignore me,” and normal posts saying “sorry for the rant.”

While writing, I tried to put together the pieces and show how my observations were all connected. At the same time, I was invested in a sociology blog, Sociological Images, and I wanted to write something that I could publish on it. I drafted and drafted, wrote and rewrote, researched and researched again, but I never felt like my piece was complete. Every now and then, I would get a sudden flash of inspiration – an epiphany, a better way to explain my thinking. I would come across a new piece of research or a theory that would make my piece complete.

Then I was asked if I wanted to present anything at Idea Festival. Hesitantly, I said yes, even though I worried that my theory would sound too esoteric to make sense to anyone outside of Tumblr. I could hardly even explain it myself! Likewise, the day of the first run-through was… not that great. I kept stuttering and stumbling. I barely looked up from my index cards, and my PowerPoint didn’t completely work.

Still, the first day of Idea Festival was successful. Many of my friends showed up to watch a talk about the future, which, if the speaker’s predictions end up being correct, will apparently be populated entirely by robots. We stayed to hear Tyler Darnell talk about how schools might be able to survive through different educational philosophies, followed by Zoe Shaver’s talk about the history and importance of the free press.

But many of the other presenters were nervous, and I felt a secondhand nervousness along with them. What if no one liked my talk? What if they didn’t get it? What if I choked? To accommodate that fear, I stayed up until 11:30 that night practicing and adding to my speech, which I had to deliver at 10 o’clock the next morning. I still felt a little uneasy, but strangely enough, I woke up with confidence that everything would be alright.

Until I got to school and we had problems.

First, my microphone wouldn’t clip anywhere, so I had to hold the remote control for the projector, my script, and the mic all at once. That wasn’t possible, of course, so I had to hold my script and the remote control at the same time while projecting. Next, my PowerPoint didn’t work. I was standing up in front of everyone clicking a bunch of buttons, and everyone was staring at me.

“This file has been corrupted. Do you wish to read it anyway?”

“Yes,” I thought, “I would love to read it, thanks.”

“You cannot read this file. It has been corrupted.”

I sighed. All of a sudden, I had to start speaking. I was introduced, and everyone was staring intently at me. I was staring intently at my notes.

Honestly, it didn’t go as badly as I was describing it — it actually went really well. Sure, I probably looked at my notes a little too much, but so do most people.I got much more comfortable as I started to talk, and I tried to speak with conviction while still being interesting.

Then, as I stared at my haphazardly written notes, I realized something — Oh no. I don’t have a conclusion.

I knew that I needed to explain how the problem could be solved. I spoke honestly: “I think that this problem would best be solved on an individual level.” I needed a catchy way to make it all tie back together, to make it all stick. All of a sudden, I thought of the way: “I can’t tell you yourself how to solve the problem for yourself; but for my own part, all I can say is, I’ve been up here for about twenty minutes… so I apologize for the rant.”