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When I first heard about UT LAMP (Learning Activities for Mature People), two facts about the program seemed a little hard to believe.
First, that when invited to be a guest speaker, the earliest open lecture slot was 10 months in the future. Second, that membership is capped at 500, and at a yearly fee of $195, there’s a waiting list of prospective members who seek an invitation to join. As of Thursday, January 27, 2013, when I presented “Pilot Error in Fact and Fiction,” I no longer have any doubts about the popularity of the program or the reasons for it.
If I had to guess, I’d say that the combination of my pilot and military backgrounds makes me especially appreciative of competency in anything. Doing something well is never an accident, and the entire UT LAMP organization and its members are absolutely first class.
The expression “like clockwork” describes well the lecture sessions. I arrived a little before 9:00 a.m. and met Elaine Shelton, the curriculum director who invited me to be a speaker. We had been coordinating periodically over the past 10 months, and from the outset, Elaine did everything she said she would do to help me prepare, from presentation content, to timing, to logistics of setting up the book signing table, to obtaining the special parking permit, and arranging a visit as a guest to observe how the lectures were run.
Not to downplay the importance of my own preparation to revise the script and the slide show, but walking into the lecture room with confidence was due in large part to Elaine’s assistance. Another staff member facilitated connecting my computer to the A/V system and fitted me with the Lavalier microphone, and I was ready to go about 10 minutes before the scheduled start time.
Speaking of which, all flight briefings during my Air Force career began with a time hack. On one notable occasion, the flight lead of a combat mission in Vietnam provided a time hack with an exaggerated gesture to look at his wristwatch and announce in a ridiculous simulated accent, “Ah so. Seiko say time zero-eight-thirty hours.”
We all stared at him as if he’d gone crazy overnight until he showed us his brand-new Seiko watch that he bought the previous afternoon at the Base Exchange. None of us had ever seen a Seiko, but it didn’t take long to remedy that. From that moment on, most time hacks began with, “Ah so . . .”
I can report, however, that I didn’t need one at UT LAMP. You can set your watch by how they run it. And when you meet Rita, you know why.
Remember the hall monitors in school, or maybe your homeroom teacher with the ruler? This delightful lady is the gatekeeper, if you will, and she leaves no doubt in your mind who’s in charge when it comes to signing in guests, preparing the name tags, and the handling of the little brass bell that signals an advance warning. And when the clock strikes 9:30, the door closes and ding-a-ling we begin. Don’t be late.
After a few announcements, introduction of guests (and special thanks to my wife Ann, Dr. Guy Knolle, and Dr. Sue Ellen Young (Knolle) for their interest and support), Elaine steps to the podium, presents a very nice introduction, and the audience greets me with what felt like welcoming applause. That’s the way to launch into presenting for the first time an hour-long lecture that has changed significantly since one earlier event that didn’t meet my own standards. My nervousness vanished almost immediately.
I had timed my practice sessions giving the lecture to an empty home office/study and knew that it took just under the allotted hour. I also knew from previous experience that I have a tendency to stray from a script with extemporaneous additions, any of which might well cause me to overrun the limit. And that might get me in hot water with Rita, so I definitely didn’t want to let that happen. Don’t make her ring the little bell, Tosh!
I am relieved to report that I opened the Q&A period with two minutes to spare. For the next 17 minutes, UT LAMP volunteers responded to raised hands within the audience by distributing microphones and exerting direct control over who asked a question and when.
With no idea about what to expect from the questions, I have to say that they all addressed specific points covered during the lecture and indicated genuine interest in the topic.
And then the control of timing reigned once again. With only 15 minutes between the end of the Q&A and Rita’s next ringing of the little bell, I had to disconnect my computer and vacate the podium. That was not an easy task with UT LAMP members wanting to engage me in conversation, which I was delighted to do, but it required multi-tasking. And I’m proud to report that Rita shook my hand. Twice.
The book signing table looked really nice. I had posters of the front covers for each of the books and a price list with thumbnails of the covers. The final sales tally was 27 books, consisting of 11 novels and 16 (8 each) of the non-fiction titles.
One interesting note is that UT LAMP didn’t used to allow speakers to sell copies of their books. But that changed a few years ago, and it created a positive effect on their ability to attract speakers on a greater variety of topics.
Feedback from a variety of sources has validated for me the utility of combining a topic of interest with extensive preparation and repetition to create a professional lecture. I’d love to do it again, but the next available slot may be many years down the road.
I salute UT LAMP and everyone associated with it.