I imagine that all scholars have stories of talks from hell to match Tim Birkhead’s (“Lost for words”, Features, 29 May).
An Italian university “could not” pay for flights up front, so I paid. On my arrival, I was told that reimbursement was complicated so I would be paid a fee. I was paid four months later, minus 30 per cent tax – a problem that was attributed to changes in Italian law – and subsequently invited back to the institution.
I returned, and still have not been reimbursed, despite sending receipts this time. On both occasions I paid for meals. The university would like to have me back, but first they need to learn to treat guest speakers better.
One of my favourite memories as a guest speaker took place at a local reading group. One of the members came up to me before the talk began and said “I didn’t tell my husband it was about Shakespeare, as he wouldn’t have come if he’d known”.
During the talk I scanned the room trying to identify the unwilling participant. Either he was converted, good at feigning the appropriate level of absorption, or he had found a way to leave. I tried to resist excessive enthusiasm or any proselytising on behalf of the subject.
As a speaker I once had difficulty with a language barrier. The organiser failed to tell me that the audience could speak only Portuguese; I can’t get much beyond obrigado.