Licensed Battlefield Guides A History at Gettysburg: Gettysburg Winter Lecture

This is Licensed Battlefield Guide Fred Hawthorne in a presentation that is supposed to be a history of the Licensed Battlefield Guides, but it is something else.  It’s actually a talk about the early days of guiding on the battlefield and the development of some regulations about guiding.

I’m really disappointed in this lecture.  He went way over time, which I think is unconscionable.  One of the most valuable things a person can give you is their time.  These lectures are supposed to be an hour in length and are advertised as being an hour in length, and while going a few minutes overtime is understandable and forgivable when you’re sticking to the topic, to go 44 minutes overtime is simply showing contempt for the value of the audience members’ time, especially since much of what he had to say in filling that time were aside comments such as commenting that one guide was a poor carpenter.  I give him poor marks for respecting his audience and poor marks for organizing his presentation.  Also, the description of his program, which I assume he provided, says that he will talk about “What caused the War Department to establish licensing regulations and how has the guide force evolved over the past century.”  Maybe I dozed off listening to the video and missed it, but I didn’t hear how the guide force evolved over the past century.  Well into the program, I heard him talk about an illiterate guide leading to a complaint to the War Department, but that was after he had blasted past the one hour point.  So he didn’t focus the talk on what he was supposed to focus on.

He did do a great deal of research, and he does have some rare slides of veterans returning to the battlefield; however, that’s not what the presentation was supposed to be about.  The time he spent talking about returning veterans, which was a subject of an earlier lecture, could have been spent talking about the guide program.  While he has an excellent presentation style, I’m still happy I made the decision to skip attending the lecture and instead viewed it on YouTube, where I could stop the video and do other things during the day and evening.  Had I attended in person and had I planned on doing something afterward, I would have been upset to be placed in the position of either walking out on the presentation or missing what I had planned to do afterward, and I would be insulted that he thought so little of my time that he at least didn’t warn me ahead of time that it would run over and by how much so I could decide up-front if I wanted to stay for it or leave.

Lecturers should know approximately how long their presentation will be.  They need to stay close to the time limit, but if they can’t and absolutely have to go more than 15 minutes over, they should warn the audience at the beginning.  Also, it takes just a little bit of planning to virtually assure that you’ll stay within the time limit.  If I have an hour to give a talk and I want to leave five minutes for questions, that means my talk is 55 minutes.  One minute each for an introduction and a conclusion or summary means I have 53 minutes in the body of the lecture.  I divide that between my main points, allocating as needed.  So with three main points I can allocate it as 18 minutes for Point One, 18 minutes for Point Two, and 17 minutes for Point Three.  If I want to give more time to a point, I have to take away time from somewhere else.  Perhaps I only have a 30 second introduction and a 30 second conclusion, which allows me to give Point Three 18 minutes also.  I can cut out question time and have five more minutes to allocate.  From there I build the talk, and during my rehearsals I find out if I’m staying within the time limit for each point.  I can cut out material from points that are too long.  It’s better to have them wanting more information than to have them shut down during your talk.  You can dismiss the audience at the one-hour point and stay behind to expound with other information for those who wish to stay and are interested in hearing more.  But that’s something they get to decide regarding the use of their time, which means you are respecting them and their time.  Maybe one point doesn’t need as much time as the others.  You can then allocate more time to the other points and include more information on those points.  That’s a big reason for rehearsing–to fine tune the talk as well as to get to know it.  And always remember what the talk is about.  Stay focused on that and minimize straying off topic.  Make sure you cover what you promised to cover.  The advertisement for the talk is your contract with the audience.  You’re promising to cover a certain subject in a certain amount of time, and they are devoting their time to listen to you.  Treat them and their time with respect.  It goes a long way.

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9 comments

  1. Rod Haynes · · Reply

    Good call on length of lecture. It’s very rude to go overtime.

    1. It’s a pet peeve of mine because it was drilled into me when I was learning how to give presentations. When people are giving you their time, you need to have respect for them.

  2. There is a lot to be said for brevity…

    1. Mostly honoring the contract with the audience. Better to have them wanting more than to have them wondering why you didn’t end an hour ago.

  3. Ryan Quint · · Reply

    To say nothing of having a conclusion, or allowing time for visitor questions.

  4. Bob Nelson · · Reply

    Yes, running overtime by 40 minutes or so is unconscionable. I clearly remember going to educational conferences when I was a school administrator in the 1980s and 90s when a “break-out” presenter would run so far overtime that we would have to get up and walk out before he/she was finished to get to the next session. Not good. Still, I thought Fred Hawthorne’s presentation was truly outstanding. For starters, his topic was something entirely new to me. Don’t know about you, Al, but I really don’t wish to watch another lecture on the Overland Campaign. His Power Point presentation was by far one of the best — if not the best — ever. Well researched. Loved the old photos. Could have listened to him for another 30 minutes or more. Interesting that we — two educated men — can look at the same video with diametrically opposed opinions. You thought it bad, I thought it great. Guess that’s what makes the world go round.

    1. If everybody liked the same thing, Baskin-Robbins would only have one flavor of ice cream. He went overtime and he also didn’t address what the talk was supposed to address. Had the advertised subject of the talk been veterans returning to the field and how the guide system came into being I would have had fewer complaints. Where did he talk about the guide program within the past 100 years? I missed it entirely if he did. It comes down to a lack of respect for the audience. He didn’t respect the audience enough to be considerate of their time, and he didn’t respect the audience enough to honor the contract made with them. I agree he did quite a bit of research and used photographs that are rarely if ever seen, and he presented well. The whole lack of respect for the audience really turned me off, though. By the time he got to the end there was no time whatsoever for any questions. It seems as though people were in a hurry to get out of there and get to whatever they had to get to for which they were already late.

      1. Bob Nelson · · Reply

        “If everybody liked the same thing, Baskin-Robbins would only have one flavor of ice cream.” Agree completely. Takes me back to the old alt.war.civil.usa newsgroup in the mid 90s when we all argued and disagreed and clashed over all sorts of subjects. It certainly wasn’t boring.

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