Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Speaker "Species" at Conference

As a part of my job I have to go and speak at various conferences and demonstrate thought leadership of our company at a public forum. There is a fine balance one needs to attain. On most occasions the organizers would have paid a paltry sum to cover for expenses, which essentially means whatever content you give out is free. You don't want to give away too much at the same time you need to convince the audience that you know enough about the subject.

However, all speakers don't have these constraints. For some speakers it is an excellent opportunity to explain their product, service or solution to an informed audience and they might have paid an handsome sum of money to get that speaking slot. For some others it is industry obligation, for some others it is ticket to networking and for very few others it is an excuse to get a sponsored trip. This assembly of well dressed, well prepared presenters who have gathered to do the same activity but with completely different intent makes the whole experience very comical. So after presenting some species among delegates in my last blog, here are some species among speakers.

Last Speaker of the day : Networking session after your speech is your magic moment. You get a stage for yourself, to proclaim your expertise on the subject and irrespective of whatever you speak, it works like a magic on the audience. Networking starts after their speech. Whatever is your intent one does enjoy the attention, flattering comments and limelight moments after the speech. Delegates start flocking around and congratulate on the speech.
This is where the last speaker of the day suffers the most. The problem with Last Speaker is he knows he may not get such an opportunity. He is not even sure whether these delegates would stay back. In his mind he is kicking himself for accepting that speaking slot and is also mildly jealous of fellow speakers who hog limelight one after another. So he starts campaigning for his speech since morning. He does not take any conversation to its logical end. He initiates it, when the debate heats up, with a vicious smile he says,"I would like to answer this in my speech".

Unable to lose the bearing : Some speakers are really very passionate. They deliver energetic speeches. They may come from a company who does need that stage to communicate to the world eg. some start up working on a new idea or company that is knocking doors of the big league or some i dustry association propagating a new concept and gathering industry participants etc. . Invariably, they have some aspect of their speech that is debatable. During the networking fellow speakers or Aspiring Speakers may flock around politely give them another perspective. Actually, there is an obvious way to handle such situation during off-stage disagreements. The speakers can just listen to someone who presents a contrary point of view. Then give a nice and polite answer which sounds like ,"great point. I will think about it more deeply now. Thank you". But Unable to lose bearing speakers are different. They continue debating in during off-stage with the same passion and try to convince off-stage audience. If they run into an equally passionate Aspiring Speaker sparks start flying, temperatures rise and tempers show up. Despite their great speech and interesting thoughts they make more enemies than friends, their speaker feedback rankings suffer and they themselves go back frustrated, just because they were not able to lose their bearing.

The Surprised Speaker : Very often you run into a comical situation in which the speaker appears genuinely surprised at his own slides. They have a strange, mystic expression on their face which can arise out of the situation which goes something like this. Just imagine, you are going about doing your errands in a market with your partner. Your partner says, "Honey, (or sweetie or Baby or whatever your calling card might be) i will be right back." Soon you run into a common friend and your partner turns up. What would your facial expression be if your partner's looks are completely changed and he/she is looking straight of the fashion show ramp or like a movie star? They have similar expression on their face. They are familiar with the content but are completely bowled over by looks of the presentation and have no time to react. My hunch is the speaker might have approved the draft version of the presentation and sent to graphic designers. They may keep the content but jazz up the presentation beyond recognition. The presentation goes from graphic designer to his secretary and then to organizers. Secretary confirms that organizers have loaded the presentation so this poor speakers ambles around confidently till he his faced with his own presentation. For some of these speakers to shock is so much that they almost forget their speech. They admire their own slides but eventually start reading out the content. Their good speech is killed by their own graphic team.

The reluctant speaker: Walking up the stage and talking to room full of people is considered to be among top 5 dreaded things in the world. It is evident when you come across the reluctant speaker. Either due to genuine stage fright or due to reserved personality or lack of preparation time , every now and then you run into a speaker who hates to be there. He does not like the lime light, does not like approaching delegates. He tends to take a coffee break when other speakers are speaking and goes thru their notes during the coffee break. They act very nervously, finish off all the water bottles they can lay their hands on and then keep visiting rest room to balance the situation. They may present reasonably well but find it hard to accept any compliments. There is a sea-change in their body language after their speech. They become very friendly, may start of the discussion left half way during the day. Very early in my public speaking career, I was on this boarder line. So I have complete sympathy and understanding of what they might be going through. I do hope that one day they overcome this dreaded fearful event.

The travel bug: invariably, you run into speakers who have accepted to speak at the conference to get their trip to this destination sponsored. What is even worse, they don't hesitate to make it obvious. I have met some speakers of who have gone so far down this track that they make a convenient assumption that all other speakers are also here to do the same. They are completely oblivious to any other reasons for speaking at the conference. The conversations with such speakers can be really funny. If you strike a conversation with them they may start asking personal details about you such as where do you live, for how long, where all you have travelled, whether you are vegetarian or not, what are your hobbies etc. Initially, you don't know where the conversation is going, then you start feeling that they are genuinely interested in you but the real reason is they want travel tips. If you are from the same city, the conversation can derail into unusual places of interest, obviously because they are thorough on usual places of interest. They may ask for favorite local food haunts, local dishes, pubs etc etc. The conversation soon derails into travel habits, tips to get complimentary upgrades in airlines and hotels, which airlines are the best etc. These speakers can get along only with reluctant speakers. For the Last speakers or Unable to lose bearing speakers, these guys are a big waste of time. They may permanently away from travel bugs through out the conference. But The Travel Bugs don't care. They exist in the conference for a difference purpose. They don't waste even one minute after their speaking slot at the venue. They get very upset if the schedule is delayed or their speaking slot is preceded by the unstoppable speaker. It may put their entire schedule in jeopardy, a situation that they are not willing to accept.

The Unstoppables : I suspect that in earlier days this was the most common type of speakers at the conference. Because most of the conference organizers have elaborate systems to prevent time overruns at the conference, largely caused by the unstoppables. Conference organizers review length of the presentation, keep 5 to 10 minutes after each presentation to cover for the overruns, they have a dedicated timekeeper sitting in the last row, away from public eye, with placards showing "5 minutes left" "1 minute left" and "time up". But the urge to speak and share their experience and perspective with the educated, qualified audience for these speakers is simply unstoppable. They may have limited number of slides but somewhere in the middle of the presentation they may take a wrong memory lane and wander in woods. Good eloquent speakers may entertain the crowd with their anecdotal nostalgic experiences, but it would cause a major delay. The timekeeper on last bench may start waving his placard vehemently but they will pretend to look elsewhere. The master of ceremony or chairman of the session may switch on their mike suggestively. The nervous next speaker may queue up but these unstoppables are lost in their nostalgic memories, unable to find their way back to rest of the presentation. It is cruel on them, frustrating for organizers but a moment to be amused and chuckle a little bit for all others.

In my next blog, I plan to write about species in panel discussions. Stay tuned.

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