I save the juicy bits for passengers who seek me out.
Our confessor, who prefers to remain anonymous, lives in New England and eagerly escapes each winter to give history lectures aboard luxury cruises in South America and the Caribbean.
It's not smart to make waves: Twelve years ago, a cruise-line manager heard me on a Miami talk show plugging my book on American cultural history. Within hours an invitation arrived for a 21-day, all-expenses-paid cruise for two. All I had to do was deliver three 45-minute talks. After one lecture, I was taken to task by the imperious cruise director (think Tony Soprano and Oprah rolled into one) because a passenger reported my "offensive, un-American slurs against our founding fathers." My sin was having milked some laughter by mentioning that the Pilgrims drank so much that sometimes inebriated Puritan children fell into open graves at funerals.
The cruise director said that my role was not to educate, but solely to enrich. As penance he assigned me to dine with the "merry widows"--the coven of persnickety battle axes who virtually live aboard deluxe liners. I've since toned down my lectures, saving the juicy bits for passengers who seek me out over cocktails.
Lecturers exist in social purgatory: Of late, cruise directors treat lecturers like irksome moochers, segregating them, along with the golf pro and the musicians, in an entertainment ghetto in the rear of the dining room. My only reprieve comes when passengers request that I be seated with them (so if you like a lecturer, ask a staff member if it's possible for the speaker to dine at your table).
Passenger ratings are vital: Socializing with cruisers is my pleasure, but it's also crucial to secure my position. For the lines I lecture on, a speaker has to score at least an 8.5 out of 10 on the passenger ratings to be considered on future cruises. If you like a lecture, rate the talk highly and tell the staff about the experience--it's the only way we get asked back to do it again.
Bribes are not unheard of: Lecturers don't always cruise for free. I know speakers who pay a broker from $50 to $100 per day onboard in exchange for their assignment and a cabin.
One of my colleagues even told me about a cruise director who insinuated that it would be wise to slip him a handsome "gratuity" if she expected a return engagement.
We hate know-it-alls: Most audiences are delightful, though I occasionally have to compete with snores during notorious after-lunch (nap time) sessions or win over the crowd who are attending merely to secure good seats for the bingo or cha-cha lesson to follow. The bane of my existence is the ubiquitous know-it-all who torpedoes the lecture I spent weeks preparing. I know that putting a passenger in his place won't earn me a nice rating. So, as I contemplate the shipboard luxury, magnificent sunsets, and endless smoked salmon, I deferentially tilt my head and muse, "You don't say!"