Kit and I are back from Denver, where we both spoke at U.S. Mensa’s Annual Gathering. Several readers have asked what a Mensa gathering is like. Mensans simply have one thing in common: they’re all in the 98th percentile of intelligence — pretty smart people.
Smart doesn’t necessarily mean they’re well educated (though they tend to be), nor does it mean they necessarily have any common sense, nor does it necessarily mean they have any social skills, nor any other particular trait not related to intelligence. All in all, most of them are pretty normal people …with a few “outliers” that help to give Mensa its reputation for being weird or nerdy. Some can be stand-offish and superior, but most are humble, interesting people.
One trait that intelligence gives people is curiosity — most Mensans are knowledge sponges. So what’s a Mensa conference (in their terms: gathering) like, then? Five to eight tracks of lectures, back to back over several days. Some are simply entertaining, but most have some cutting edge or thought stimulating aspect to them. As an alternative for when there’s nothing in the program of interest, there are game rooms, from cards to jigsaw puzzles to Boggle to (shudder!) members telling word puzzles to each other (I have no patience for those myself).
What I like about Mensan audiences is their ability to “get” every joke I include — instantly. They understand the implications of the issues I raise, such as zero tolerance. They can follow a complex argument. At the same time, they can be a tough crowd: they demand the best, expect well-thought-out points, and have no patience for sloppy scholarship. They’re definitely not afraid to challenge an “expert” who is speaking to them. The morning I arrived there was a rumor going around among the speakers that one of the presenters had finished their talk, and in the Q&A period one of the audience members raised his hand and said, “That was the worst presentation I’ve ever heard.” — and that comment was applauded by the rest of the audience. When I saw the program chair later (a long-time True reader who had recruited me for this gig), I asked her about it. She hadn’t heard about it, so I still don’t know if it was true. But it is at least plausible, and is a speaker’s worst nightmare — and an example of what I mean by some Mensans not necessarily having “social” skills.
It was a blast for me to have so many fans in an audience. When I introduced myself, I was really surprised that that brought hearty applause. I asked how many of them were already readers, and about a third raised their hands. I got fabulous feedback, and truly had fun there. So for me, the bottom line was that it was an incredibly stimulating environment and I had a great time. And while I was there, the organizer of the Regional Gathering in Reno started working on me again to come to his conference — I had turned him down a few months ago. But I had such a good time in Denver that I relented, and will be at the Reno conference (er, RG) in October. So if you missed this one, there’s a second chance for you this year.
If you’ve always considered joining Mensa, but weren’t sure what it was all really about, there you go. To be in the 98th percentile, which essentially means you’re smarter than 98 percent of the population, translates to an IQ of about 132 or better (it varies a bit depending on which test you take). They accept many tests, such as California school assessment tests (which are or were given in many states, not just California), many military assessment tests, etc., or you can take one of the many tests they accept or proctor themselves. See Mensa’s web site for more (a gateway to national sites the world over; Mensa is decidedly not just a U.S.-centric organization.)
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