In browsing the event list early on Friday, I excavated a panel entitled “Pet Psychic Gallery Reading” which piqued my interest as well as hopes of seeing at least one person take it entirely too seriously. When I arrived at the scheduled room, my hopes were dashed as I discovered that the panel was canceled. In it’s stead, I chose a demonology panel hosted by one John Zaffis, the self-styled “Godfather of Demonology”. No, really. The Power Point presentation that we never saw due to technical difficulties and which was replaced with a live question and answer session had a title page which read just that: “John Zaffis, Godfather of Demonology”. Apparently, Mr. Zaffis is a person of some importance in the demonology community — a fact of which I, like some brave soul who actually spoke up about it, was ignorant prior to attending his panel because I am not, myself, a demonologist. I am aware of this now, however, because of how uppity Mr. Zaffis became when someone asked him, “have you written any books on the subject”. Also, because Mr. Zaffis tapped into his inner prima donna, I shall henceforth refer to him as Johnny.
I’ll be honest; when I first selected this panel, it was because I hoped to bear witness to blatant statements of absurdity. Surprisingly enough, I find myself without tale of fantastic foolishness. In fact, Johnny was quite reasonable once he stopped humiliating his audience. I stopped waiting for an opportunity to laugh at him the moment he acknowledged the role of mental illness in cases of possession. If one reasonable statement isn’t enough to make you question your skepticism let me add that he has a background in engineering. Sure, the fact that he entertains questions like, “why is the veil thinning” push me back in the other direction but considering that his specialty is demonology, a field entirely predicated upon world religion and events heretofore empirically unprovable, I’d say his presentation of the topic was pretty damn reasonable.
Did I enjoy it? Yes though, amazingly enough, not for the reasons I had originally hoped. In fact, I’d go back just to ask some questions and I wouldn’t even have the intention of being an interruption. The PARA-Track would do well to keep booking such knowledgeable souls to helm their panels in the future.
The panel on spontaneous human combustion, hosted by “Paranormal” Sarah Harmon, was a different situation all together. If I took one thing away from the panel on Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC), it was a refined ability to ask “what do you think”. I’ll make more sense of that in a second. Until then, let me review what she did wrong.
Thou shalt not abuse PowerPoint and use it as a crutch to prop up your poor presenting skills. This was one of the most boring presentations I’d ever seen and I’ve been through over 200 credit hours of college courses officially making me a connoisseur of boring presentations. Let me put that another way: my wife slept through the entire presentation that she wanted to see on people spontaneously lighting on fire and burning to a pile of ashes. The last thing you want to use PowerPoint for is as a replacement for note cards. Write it down on the damn three-by-fives and leave the lights ON until you need to show everyone a gruesome picture.
Thou shalt present thyself as an authority on thy presentation topic. Remember “what do you think”? Well, that’s how every point in her presentation ended. Do you want to know what I think, Paranormal Sarah? I think I want your expert opinion on the subject. I think I want the opinions of people who have studied the subject extensively. That’s what I think.
Thou shalt not depend on thy audience for expert speculations on thy presentation topic. Each time we reached a SHC paradox, we got an “are there any biologists here”, “are there any morticians here”, or “are there any nuclear physicists here” as appropriate to the aspect of SHC that Paranormal Sarah had no information to present to us. Asking your audience for feedback on occasion is one thing, but the sheer frequency of these questions to the relatively empty, unengaged room, just got silly after awhile.
I can’t blame all of this on Paranormal Sarah, however. I made a mistake too. I made a big mistake. My mistake was not googling Paranormal Sarah before attending her panel or I’d have found this little gem on her flickr page:
“Sarah Harmon, also known as “Paranormal Sarah” is currently an active Parapsychology researcher and furthering her studies as a Forensic Psychology major. Paranormal Sarah, a gypsy by birth, has immersed herself and is affluent in reading bones, using Palmistry, providing energy and psychic readings, as well as specializing in psychometry to deliver accurate clairvoyant information. Paranormal Sarah is an intuitive medium and energy healer that uses her abilities to help clients in spiritual growth and awareness.”
Look up “parapsychology” on wikipedia if you’re not familiar with it. This is not the résumé of a scientist. In fact, this is the résumé I’d have expected for someone hosting a panel with a title that went something like “Pet Psychic Gallery Reading.”