For my first lecture stint aboard a transatlantic cruise filled with British passengers bound for America, I laid out some folders, guides and maps relating to my topic, New York City.
A couple of passengers came to the lectern for a chat, and I lost track of the collection, part of my personal archive of necessary material. When it was time to begin, I looked over at the table — and everything was gone.
What to do? I cleared my throat and explained that it was my mistake; the items on the table were simply for reference. There was complete silence, and then someone rose to come forward, then a couple more until all had been returned.
Making a faux pas or two is all part of the experience of being an onboard lecturer. I lecture on ships and elsewhere because I like to share my subjects; I like meeting people; I enjoy sea travel and so does my wife.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges. For example, while I’ve lived in New York for decades, there is still a whole lot to learn – and I’ve been caught being incorrect.
Recently, for example, I was giving a talk to a mixed nationality audience about how New York City is laid out. I said the cross-town street numbers begin above Houston Street and run up to 262nd Street in the northern Bronx.
After the talk, a cheerful soul with a thick New York accent came up and informed me that he happened to live on West 263rd Street. I checked and he was right; his street extended a few blocks at the very edge of the map.
Gaffs like this make you human, especially if you admit it. No matter how nicely or nastily a member of the audience corrects me, I always say “thank you.”
A few other things I’ve learned on the sea circuit:
Review your performance. Lectures are often re-run on the in-cabin TVs, making any mistakes or hesitancies viewable to the entire ship (passengers often watch to preview whether or not they want to use their precious vacation time at a lecture). Once I called the famous Dakota apartment house a hotel; I couldn’t believe I said it, but there it was on the TV for all to see.
Make friends with the entertainment staff. Some people I have known for years, and we get on like a house on fire, and some have absolutely no interest in the lectures unless it is a celebrity that he/she can introduce with great gusto. If you’re friends, you might gain some of that enthusiasm.
Connect with the passengers. I always tell my audience up front, “Please stop me if you see me around the ship.” Many like to connect because of interest in your subject.
Don’t complain. If you think you are over scheduled for less desirable slots, such as sleepy time in the afternoon, you can mention it. But don’t dwell, as it might affect your evaluation (you generally want to be asked back).
Watch other lecturers. I often hobnob with others, either for tips or as an example of what NOT to do. Pitfalls include being too scholarly, reading too much of the presentation, going over your time, having marginal visuals, or being downright boring.
Listen to feedback. My wife travels with me,, and she is my chief critic. I listen to her, and it’s a darn good idea to have someone like that. And keep your lectures fresh by updating them, because you can always improve on what you do.
Begin a talk with a light touch. If it’s drizzly weather out on deck, you might say lecturers love bad weather because it generates bigger audiences. When it’s rough, I find it best not to call attention to the ship’s movement as the audience is then more likely to concentrate on you and your topic straightaway.
Keep some mystery. If passengers ask what I get in return for lecturing, I will say either a small stipend, or if not, free passage. If they ask about other perks, and they seldom do, I may say that some of my travel expenses are covered and leave it at that.