Analysis, Fashion Issues, Fashion Resources, Opinion
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What Makes A Talk Fruitful?

I remember getting irritated over Phobe Philo’s seminar at Vogue Festival, and I find it disappointing to listen to my hero failing to further elaborate on some of her extreme statements. One of them was:

“I hope that when women wear Céline, they feel good and confident and strong. And I guess there’s a political statement behind Céline, which is that the woman should go out there and do what she wants to do.”

Of course. I paid $2000 for that viscose-cotton skirt. I should feel invincible in that Resort 2014 piece. How political. *scoffs* Thing is, like in many political systems of many countries, the Céline woman derives her leadership, power and status from money. I don’t think I buy Céline to be stuck, nor do I think any woman buys luxury goods to stay in and be forced to do things she doesn’t want to do. I buy into what Philo produces simply because she offers something appealing, original, utilitarian and meaningful. But at that interview, what was Philo saying? It seemed like nonsense you throw out when you really have nothing to say about what you personally believe. I wasn’t buying the entirety of that particular interview, which was utter disappointment after writing a full-length essay on the feminist values Céline offers since her tenure. Sorry, I was upset! But it’s not good to keep being bitter about it, I’ve got nothing to gain. Besides, I still love Phoebe and what she does.

So ever since then, I’ve been slowly deciphering the key to a good talk. Meaning, an educational/professional setting where a group of people converse and exchange knowledge in front of a group of audience. What makes it beneficial? What are things to look out for and ask? Then I realise, hey, I’ve been attending quite a handful of these seminars! So why not write a little something about it? I have to say, I am extremely lucky that my school has the great initiative of hosting many. In the past semester alone we have had guests from British Vogue, SHOWStudio contributors, researches from University of London, local designers, a couple of magazine editors and international creative directors. We were also invited to Asian Couture Week, Asian Fashion Summit, Audi Fashion Week, Blueprint Tradeshow among other events. While it is ultimately the responsibility of a student/participant to make most out of the talk to be as participative as they can when given the opportunity, it is imperative for the host to make a talk a fruitful space. I hope not everything I say here is bollocks. Do correct me if I’m wrong, because I’ve intended not to refine this piece too much to allow organicism.

Unfortunately, I think there’s been too many cases where our peers have held industry players too highly. Quite a handful of my friends, including me, felt like they were supposed to aim high just because we’re exposed to such successful people. I’ve lost track of how many times our lecturers have made attendance compulsory, only for me to feel like I’ve wasted my time. Sure, it’s quite a seldom opportunity that a person as busy as they are will drop by and dedicate half to an hour worth of time just to talk to students. But the truth is, you do get another chance. Perhaps it will come in a different form, like a chance meeting in an event. You will also have to learn to seize it. Remember that if they can’t give a good talk, you’re probably not going to learn anything, so don’t let anybody else tell you that it’s your fault. That’s when I learned the artful skill of setting criteria before determining to leave without disturbing.

  1. Learning value — Does this interest you and do you think you will actually learn something?
  2. Expertise — Is the person actually articulate enough for you to be able to assume they have authority over the matter?
  3. Priorities — Do you have anything more important you can possibly do if you ditch?

Notice that I placed learning value on top? If you decide to walk out, don’t feel guilty. Instead, think why else you think it wasn’t worth your time. Consider how valuable your feedback should be for the lecturer who has actually organised the session. But don’t act stuck up about it either.

We are no longer in the age where designers are God, when Gianni Versace was hailed ‘King’. We no longer think that McQueen whipped up an idea out of nowhere in an instant. Instead, we learned that these designers went through rigorous processes of material experimentation and research, which is why they were able to execute work well. I paraphrase what BBC Arts editor Will Gompertz has written: people have finally recognised that it was ridiculous to assume the artist was a man of superior intelligence and equipped with superpowers to render those who weren’t as merely spectators and incapable of thinking. We live in a time of questions and not only getting answers, but in pursuits of having the right and substantive one. If this is not the premise of an educational talk, there is clearly a gap between the minds of the institution and its students. Businesses, especially, cannot afford to compromise the quality of talent pools i.e. universities to jeopardise the bright minds who are potential heirs to the industry. 

Being in a fashion school is damn expensive, regardless of your financial background, and especially for those who can only afford it with the support of student loans, government subsidies and scholarships. Although I don’t encourage the notion of exploiting the privileges that come with money, we ultimately pay to receive the proper quality of learning. I want every cent I pay to be worth it, but that can only be done with a two-way street. YOU HAVE TO PARTICIPATE AND PUT IN AN EFFORT. I cannot stress that enough. 

I’ve compiled a list of my suggestions on how you can reap and sow more out of a talk. Forgive me if it’a of no-shit-Sherlock nature.

Before the talk

  • Read the fucking news — Start with non-specifics. If you’re in tune of what’s going on around the world at least, you won’t be clueless. Besides, fashion derives its existence from other schools of thought and information. Read fashion books too.
  • Research — Now, tailor it to the talk. Who is your guest, what do they do? Do sufficient background reading but not too much to leave little surprises at the talk.
  • Talk to your lecture — Most likely, they know what the topics are going to be. You’ll be able to know if you will be interested to participate or not. If it’s not your forté, you might be delighted to find out new things, but you don’t have to attend to something you’re not interested in. And if their answers don’t suffice, go back to researching
  • Prepare questions — Creating a list of questions go a loooong way. Tailor questions to the subject. It’s also good to be aware of the categories of your questions, so you can actually recycle questions that weren’t specifically tailored to this particular talk.

During the talk

  • Be attentive — If you’re like me and worry about opportunity costs, bring a small note and pen plus get your phone out to record the whole thing. It’ll keep you on your toes, examine whether your prepared questions list is appropriate and easily create new ones.

Post-talk

  • Discuss with people — There is nothing worse than suppressing what you feel or think. If you have a friend with you, great! Talk to them. For real. If you don’t feel like talking to strangers, don’t, but sometimes it’s very beneficial to get a completely different view.
  • Approach — Many are kind enough to stay an extra few minutes. If your questions weren’t answered, don’t be afraid to talk directly to them. Give some feedback. If you feel like you’re taking away their valuable time, let your lecturers know your preference.

I personally think that education is still a privilege, not a right. Why do I say that? Simply because not everyone can attain it, although you can continue to live without it. Another downside is that too many people place too much importance on the education system simply as means for students to be able to get jobs, i.e. if you don’t have a degree, everything is a dead end. That notion is incorrect to begin with and implies that you can’t pursue what you want to do in life as a long-term mean to make ends meet. Some of the most successful people I’ve met (a diamond collector) have never even had proper education.

And that’s the end of it — for now. It’s absolutely essential to discuss what makes a good lecture, seminar, workshop, interview, discussion or talk – especially in the case of it being about fashion. What do you guys think? What actually makes a talk a good and valuable? Have you guys got any of your own tips or anything to add? Feel free to respond in the comments box.

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