Volume 39, Issue 7, July  2004


The Seminar
by Lyle R. Hill

The audience, made up entirely of prominent, local architects, applauded softly as the final speaker of the day offered his closing remarks. His presentation, like the three that had preceded him, had been outstanding. Indeed, all four sessions of the daylong seminar had been informative, timely and presented professionally. Between the second and third presentations, an extremely generous and tasty buffet luncheon had been served in the expansive, downtown Chicago hotel conference room where the event was being held. As the final speaker found a chair among the audience of approximately 75 participants, the seminar moderator made his way to the podium, looked at his notes and leaned into the microphone. 

“On behalf of our speakers and the companies that they represent, I want to thank you for participating in today’s event. Now, we would like to close out our seminar with a brief question-and-answer period, so if you have any questions, please simply stand and I will recognize you accordingly.”

After only a few seconds, a well-dressed gentleman in the third row stood and waited to be recognized. The moderator pointed an open hand toward him as if to signal him to begin.

“Well,” the gentleman began, “I want to first state that the question I am about to ask may or may not be a question that I would raise on my own, but rather should be interpreted as a question being raised for the general concern that others may or may not have with regards to the specific nature of the matter I am addressing. Further, I am not to be held responsible for the question asked, the answer given or any interpretations derived from either. Additionally, if the answer provided is not the answer that was anticipated, I reserve the right to reject it without explanation or to alter my original question in anticipation of a more preferable answer. Finally, regardless of what may be said, thought or dreamt, my colleagues and I are to be totally absolved of all responsibility, liability, viability or any other ‘ility’ that we may think of later.”

Several in the audience nodded affirmatively … a few applauded gently … one cried openly. A silence then came over the group as the gentleman cleared his throat and continued to speak.

“So here is my question: How many chips were supposed to be in each of the chocolate chip cookies that were part of the dessert tray? Is there an approved sample? What was the design intent? Are you aware that of the 15 cookies on the tray at the beginning of the designated meal time, six had nine chips, seven had eight, one had ten and one of them had none and, in fact, may have been a chocolate fudge cookie mixed in with the chocolate chip cookies?”

The audience gasped … almost in unison … then began to murmur. The look on the moderator’s face was hard to discern, but he gathered himself quickly and responded. 

“I most certainly apologize for the cookie mishap, and you have my assurance that I’ll look into it and take appropriate action. Now, are there any technical or product-related questions as a result of today’s presentations?”

“Perhaps the fudge cookie was there to offer a contrast in color and texture,” shouted someone from the back of the room. 

“Less is more and form should always follow function,” someone else chimed in.

“I noticed that the chips were aligned somewhat obliquely,” began yet another, “and were less random than one would have imagined given the fact that …”

“Enough with the cookies already,” the moderator interrupted. “I’m looking for technical questions!”

Rising from the far right-hand side of the room, a rather distinguished looking man appearing to be in his early 50s began to speak.

“With regard to the cheese tray, a few of my colleagues and I are involved in a very serious debate over the Swiss cheese that was served. Specifically, what color was it? Was it really Swiss or an “or equal to” substitute? I think it was a pale lemon but some are claiming that it was actually a washed-out mustard, while yet another group feels it is in the faded Post-It note family. I don’t believe we can move on to other topics until this matter is resolved.”

The crowd began to murmur and shift in their chairs. Things were taking a turn for the worse as a sweater-clad 30ish looking attendee jumped to his feet.

“The Swiss cheese was not the problem. Inconsistency is expected with Swiss cheese, but what about the Colby … known for its consistent shape and color … the Colby served today was an embarrassment. I reject it out of principle if not for its lack of acceptable taste and form.” 

“Leave the Colby out of this,” shouted someone from the corner of the room. “It’s the cheddar that needs to be addressed. What did the specifications …?”

“Stop!” the moderator interrupted. “We’re not going to do food questions! Don’t any of you care about the technical side of what went on here today?”

“I have a non-food question,” offered a well-dressed woman in the fifth row.

“Excellent,” stated the moderator. “What is it?”

“I would like to know,” she started, “who chose the silverware? You see, the silverware was obviously Victorian while the China pattern was Oriental postmodern. The resulting conflict ruined my lunch.”

Before she could sit down, the person sitting right behind her jumped up excitedly and with a look that could only be described as one of horror began to speak.

“I have no argument with the silverware or the China, although the stemware appeared to be a bit dated. But I’d like to know who chose this hotel for the seminar? Did you see the wallpaper in the men’s room? It clashes so violently with the bathroom fixtures that I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep tonight. And while we’re at it, how about the rest of the hardware in this place?”

“I disagree,” someone yelled without standing, “I think this is a wonderful, neo-classical, pre-deluvian, faux-bellium structure and a perfect venue for this seminar.” 

The murmurs were now at their loudest and several self-induced coughs could be heard throughout the audience.
“People, people, people,” the moderator interrupted, “Please … no more questions about the food, the silverware or anything to do with the building.”

“OK, I have a question … it’s about the parking,” stated a middle-aged participant in row seven.
“Parking,” the moderator repeated. “What about the parking?”

“Well, it was announced that this seminar was free to architects and I would like to know if that covers parking because if you have to pay for your own parking then the seminar was not really free, so a misstatement of truth has been made.”

The moderator glared at the questioner as nods of affirmation were exchanged openly between the 

“OK,” the moderator began, speaking more calmly than one might have thought possible given the circumstances, “turn in your receipts and we’ll pay for the parking.

“I took a cab,” another shouted as he jumped to his feet. “You should pay cab fare too.” 

“OK … we’ll pay for cab fare too. I now see that our time has expired so let me again thank you for your participation here today and ….”

But before he could finish his statement, an attendee from the first row stood and with his body facing the audience as much as it was facing the moderator, began to speak in a raised voice.

“I would like to know,” he said as he rocked back and forth on his heels, “when and where the next free educational seminar will be held. I have a few suggestions for the topics to be discussed and for the food to be served.”

“I also have a few suggestions,” added another seated to his right.

But as heads nodded and bobbed throughout the audience, a sly grin replaced the look of disgust that had stationed itself on the moderator’s face. His eyes scanned the audience as he spoke.

“Well, I only have a few minutes left before I need to leave for the airport, but let me suggest this. After I depart, I think you should stay around for awhile and come to an agreement among yourselves as to when we should meet again, where we should meet, what food should be served, what additional arrangements need to be made and what topics should be discussed. Once you have reached an accord on these and any other matters you think are pertinent, appoint someone to take responsibility for calling me and giving me direction with regards to the next event. I’ll take it from there.”

With this, he motioned to the other speakers to follow him and as a group, they made a quick exit. And as he did so, he smiled to himself … knowing well that the group he was leaving could never reach an accord on anything or find a representative who would allow himself to be held responsible for any decisions that they may reach. As he drove away, however, he did feel a little guilty … after all, who was going to tell them when it was OK to go home?


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