How a Skinhead’s excellent presentation fails at the very last moment.

One of the most successful ways to end a presentation is to bring back an image, concept, person or something else that you used in the introduction. Part of the success of this trick lies in the fact that the audience don’t know that you are going to so this, so they are usually pleasantly surprised when you do and will start to applaud.

A few years ago, one of my first-year Mechanical Engineering students almost got this right, with the result that at the end of the talk there was no applause, but awkward silence.

The others in the group had warned me about her, saying that she was nuts. She may not look nuts or talk as if she was nuts and she may not act nuts, but she was completely and utterly nuts, they said. And it was true: she did not look, or act nuts at all. She was a skinhead, and in her presentation she explained the rules and customs of the skinhead community. It was actually kind of interesting, if slightly awkward. It certainly had news value, as none of the students in the audience had ever dared to ask a skinhead what their mores entailed.

The introduction was fine. She started by explaining how yoarmy bootsu could identify the status of a skinhead just by looking at their shoelaces. The black shoelaces she was wearing were a sign that she was a new member with low status. Status was acquired by the amount of violence one was willing to use. ‘The most prestigious shoelaces are red, she said, ‘you are only allowed to wear red shoelaces if you have killed someone with your bare hands.’

The body of the presentation was well organised and she used clear illustrations, good speed, melody, posture – she did everything right. She was in “uniform”, so she was able to use herself as a visual aid, pointing at specific parts of her attire, which was rather funny and even mildly endearing: she was a girl showing off her clothes.

And then she came to her conclusion, which went quite well, she summarised the main points she had tried to make, and then, in the very last sentence she demonstrated that she was a good presenter and completely crazy at the same time:

‘And one day,’ she said with a glow of anticipation, ‘I hope I will be wearing red shoelaces. Thank you for your attention’.