'Matter of Laugh or Death,' a humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
THE GUEST SPEAKER OR CHARLIE BROWN’S TEACHER?
For about the four-billionth time in my life I attended a dinner meeting at a very fancy banquet facility with a very lousy sound system. (Four-billionth time? Note to self: Stop exaggerating so much. It’s been no more than two billion times.)
Why is it so many multi-million-dollar banquet facilities, auditoriums, and hotel conference centers have two-dollar sound systems? Some of these places have many high-tech gizmos installed: sophisticated lighting controls, motorized silver screens that drop down from a slot in the ceiling, computerize keyboards at the podium, and projectors built into the wall. These fancy features allow the guest speakers to show PowerPoint presentations. (If you’ve ever had to sit thru these never-ending slide shows, you know PowerPoint software was actually invented by Satan.)
With all these amazing visual components, far too many facilities have audio systems that sound like the first trial-and-error laboratory experiment ever conducted by Thomas Edison. For those of you who can remember vinyl record albums and turntables, imagine taking an album out in the street and playing Frisbee with it for a few hours until it gets totally scratched up. Then bring the album back in the house, put the stereo’s volume up to 10, and drop the needle onto the spinning album. That will sound awfully scratchy, won’t it? Well, that’s the sound quality I WISH some of these banquet facilities provided. The actual sound quality in many of them is much worse.
At the most recent seminar I attended—either my four-billionth or two-billionth, depending on whether I’m exaggerating or not—the guest speaker sounded like a man gargling firecrackers while his adenoids were being surgically removed. Then it got worse when someone remembered to turn his microphone on, with the volume up to 10. People as far as three blocks away left work early complaining of headaches. Those of us actually inside the conference room were hospitalized overnight for observation and then released the next day. (See? I stopped exaggerating.)
Admittedly, some of the problem is operator error. I’ve been to a few facilities where it’s obvious the sound system is very expensive and very sophisticated—so sophisticated a master’s degree in electrical engineering is required to operate it. However, when there is a problem, the only guy available is Lou from Maintenance, who, when called, arrives with the following: a cigar permanently clenched in the corner of his mouth, a bad attitude, and a 4-foot tall rolling tool box in which the smallest and most delicate tool is a 16-ounce ball-peen hammer.
Sometimes when Lou hits the digital control panel with the ball-peen hammer the sound quality gets a little better. Sometimes it doesn’t.
On other occasions the featured guest—often promoted as a world-renowned conference speaker—acts as if he’s never used a microphone before. Some guys will hold the mic down around their belt buckle as they speak, as if the thing were some kind of CIA-developed, long range eavesdropping device. Other guys will hold the mic so close to their mouths, it periodically scrapes against their back molars. Either way, the audience can make out about every fifth word.
Wireless lapel mics are even more interesting. Sometimes the speaker never turns it on. Other times he never turns it off, so after the presentation, everyone can clearly hear him mutter, “What a lousy audience.”
When I go to seminars in the future, I should follow the simple 3-step advice offered by a friend: 1) Eat dinner in the banquet room. 2) Excuse yourself to go to the men’s room just before the main speaker is introduced. 3) Don’t come back.
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