The Stuff of Nightmares

This story is so weird that it feels made up. I imagine it also corresponds to many academics' nightmares (not mine though!)

'I blagged my way through, reading a torn-up textbook and ad libbing': An Oxford engineering student was surprised but undaunted when he was approached to deliver a series of lectures in Beijing on global economics.

Matthew Richardson knew “next to nothing” about the subject but, believing he would be addressing a sixth-form audience, he felt he could “carry it off”.

Mr Richardson, 23, borrowed an A-level textbook entitled An Introduction to Global Financial Markets from a library and swotted up on its contents on the flight from London to China.

From it he prepared a two-hour presentation, believing he had to deliver the same lecture several times over to different groups of students over three days.

Mr Richardson, who has the same name as a New York University professor who is a leading authority on international financial markets, was met at the airport and taken straight to a conference centre where, over lunch, “the horrible truth became apparent”.

He said: “It became clear to me that my audience was not students, but people from the world of commerce studying for a PhD in business studies having already gained an MBA.

“And instead of repeating the same lecture, I was required to deliver a series of different lectures to the same people over three days. The first one was immediately after lunch.

“I have no idea who they were expecting. Being Chinese, they were inscrutable and if they were expecting someone else they didn't show it. Perhaps they thought I was a prodigy. They all called me professor.

“I had come this far, so I decided not to back out. I hoped I could blag my way through.”

Because Mr Richardson was relying on the book, written by Stephen Valdez, he had taken the precaution of buying a second copy before leaving Oxford. “I ripped out the pages and disguised each chapter as notes.

“Because I was speaking through an interpreter I had the time to glance at the pages and prepare myself for what I was going to say next. I ad libbed a bit and really got into the subject. I was learning as much as my audience.”

To add authenticity to his delivery, he used his laptop computer to make it appear that he was reading from his own material and made notes on a board to emphasise points he was making.

All went well during the first afternoon. The following day he made it through to the lunch break when several students told him, through the interpreter, how informative they were finding his lectures.

“The problem was that I was running out of chapters. By mid-afternoon on the second day I was already on chapter 15 of 16 and I still had the rest of the day and the following morning to go. I realised I wasn't going to make it.”

It was then that his nerve broke. “I didn't like to tell them I didn't know what I was talking about. So I decided to leg it.”

During a coffee break he collected his bag from the adjoining conference hotel and checked out. He booked into another hotel where he spent a fearful night expecting a knock on the door at any time and then headed for the airport for his pre-arranged flight home.

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4 Responses to The Stuff of Nightmares

  1. Michael Robinson says:

    I’ve lived in Beijing for more than a decade, and this account had me laughing uncontrollably. It’s so real. I’ve been in similar (but not nearly so extreme) situations myself. Once I attended a talk given by Nicholas Negroponte that he wasn’t aware he was giving until he was halfway from the airport to the conference center (having just flown literally halfway around the world).


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