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Impossible Demands? I Won’t Hear Of It!

, , , , , | Working | June 25, 2021

I’m a biologist, and my boss made me the “volunteer” audio-visual person at an international consortium of about 150 people. This was mainly because, as one of the youngest scientists at my company — I’m in my mid-thirties — I was known for being reasonably comfortable with computers. To be clear, I really have no useful A/V skills; I just know how to plug a laptop into a projector and advance Powerpoint. We had an IT person, but my boss didn’t want to pay the expense of sending another person to the conference.

None of this would be a big deal, except that the conference was in a hotel conference room, and my boss balked at the hotel’s charge for A/V rental. Instead, with just a few hours’ notice before I had to leave for my flight, my boss told me that he didn’t want to rent any A/V equipment there, and I needed to somehow acquire and take all of it with me to the conference.

We had a computer and projector but no audio equipment. On such short notice, our IT person ran out to the only place he could think of — a guitar store — and bought an amp, microphone, mixing board, and cables. He saved the receipts, knowing that he’d be asked to return it all after the conference.

He had about ten minutes to show me how to plug everything in, and then we packaged it all up into a few duffel bags that I then had to lug through the airport.

The morning of the conference, I set everything up, but it was clear that this amp — the largest he could buy at the time — was clearly too small and too low-quality for the conference presenters to make themselves heard. As conference participants entered the room, it was like I was watching a car crash at low speed. I knew no one would be audible, and I knew there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. The darned amp was balanced on a chair in the center of the room and all dials were maxed, and yet the room was just too large for this single amp to do anything. THIS IS WHY YOU PAY FOR THE HOTEL’S A/V.

You can guess what happened next. The first speaker started, and after about a minute, the room broke out in:

Attendees: “Can’t hear! We can’t hear!”

Of course, all of our international attendees looked at me, thinking I was some sort of actual A/V person and not just a biologist who got “volunteered” and wished he were anywhere else. I couldn’t fix the problem, and with my boss breathing down my neck, I couldn’t tell anyone what the problem was.

Attendee: *Pointedly* “We can’t hear!

Me: “That is accurate.”

It was a long, long two days.

At least we got a refund at the guitar store.