Monday, September 16, 2013

Species in panel discussion

Panel discussion is a specialized event within the conference. All speakers are invited together on the stage and a moderator asks some questions about the topic under discussion. These questions are perhaps a step forward from the original speech and usually involves specific opinions of the panelists. The questions may sound like , "in your speech you mentioned that so and so trend looks promising, what do you think will happen by 2015?"

This is where the problem lies. You can prepare very well for your speech but you can probably never prepare well for a panel discussion. Delivering your speech is like acting in a movie, panel discussion is like acting on stage. Its all live, no retakes, no second chances. You have to think on your feet. Express your opinion without hurting other panelist - who may well be your clients. If countered and cornered, you should be able to retreat graciously. All this needs to be done live with no time to think or contemplate. This complexity brings out a different array of "species".

Speech ++ : This category of panelist have a strong hangover of their own speech. Either they have prepared so well and thought about the speech so much that they are unable to think about anything else or they are genuinely unable to think of anything else. Whatever is the reason, their response to any question starts with , "As i mentioned in my speech earlier....." They use this prelude for answering any question, even if it is not related to their presentation. Somehow they see a continuum between what they presented and rest of the world, which others fail to appreciate.

Time-machines : This panelist typically is on the wrong side of fifties or more. Thats the defining characteristic. They quickly realize that they are the most "experienced" among the entire lot of panelist and that becomes their foundation of anything they say. They claim to know who's who across the spectrum due to their associations earlier in their careers. Even if you are 40 something they address you as young generation, making you feel like a teenager. They talk passionately about companies that may not exist or may be on their way down. Somehow they claim to be present in or even claim to be the brains behind situations that redefined the history or caused a serious breakthru'. Their anecdotes sound like , "In 198x, when so and so company was on the verge of collapsing, the MD Mr. Who's who called me / came to my office/ called me for a drink and that's when I gave him this idea, which made sure company is still live and kicking today." They share breakthroughs that the "young generation" around fails to relate to or appreciate. But I must say, their memories and stories are astonishing by any yardstick. Their typical response to any question raised during panel discussion sounds like "in 1964 when me and MD of so and so company were discussing, I mentioned to him so and so which he implemented in his next launch" You can't help but wonder, if he is such an influential person and if he has caused so many historic moments, then why haven't you heard about him before and how the hell has he managed stay below the media radar for so long. Since I belong to "young generation" I may never find a good answer to this.

Patronizing Panelists: Some panelists I have come across are more interested in patronizing or attacking co-panelists than responding to the questions or stating their opinions. They may have strong opinions and disagreements with other panelists, given a chance they want to shred their opponents to pieces. But they wear veil of nicety and bearing of a gentleman. They start their answers with a smile on their face - which is on the borderline of a smirk - "With due respect to Mr. So and so opinion...." Or "I almost agree with you on this...." Or "that is a great alternate theory about what is happening". All these sentences respectively mean "Mr. So and so is an idiot and does not deserve any respect" or "I completely disagree with you but it is politically incorrect for me to accept it. " or "you have no clue about what is happening, what you have mentioned does not make sense at all". God forbid, if you have to join such a panelist. There is no sure shot way to deal with such panelist without looking bad. The only thing which had once worked for me was pre-empting. During a coffee break and other interactions throughout the day, I had spotted a patronizing panelist who was supposed to be on the same panel. I would append my answer with a sentence tag - "I am aware that Mr. Patronizing panelist may disagree and present his alternative view but let us not forget three important aspects that determine the outcome". If those three important aspects were considered no logical alternate view was possible. This effectively took wind of the sail from Mr. Patronizing panelist.
One wonders why such disruptive, abrasive personalities get included in the panel at all. Because organizers love them. They make the debate lively, crack some jokes, ensure that the topic under discussion sounds important. That is extremely compelling reason! For me, I must say, I almost like them.

Gubugubugubu : When I was a child and I used to visit my grand parents town, there would be an unique visitor. We used to call him "nandi bail" or bull named nandi. This bull named nandi was supposed to have powers. He could predict the rains, how would the crop yield be or whether the challenges facing the town would vanish. The drill went like this : the man with the bull would ask the bull ," Nandi tell us whether it would rain on time" then his drum would go "gubugubugubu" Then Nandi would nod affirmatively. Then the onlookers would hand over some change to the man for giving the good news.
At age 7, I figured out that Nandi can only nod affirmatively and all the questions and the Nandi-man coins the questions to ensure affirmative answer is the most desirable one. Well, I have come across so many panelist who are waiting to agree to other panelist. It saves them the effort of having their own unique opinion and having to defend it. They are also weary of Patronizing Panelist - one of the best ways to deal with them is also to join the forces and agree with them. These panelists have rather forgettable existence in the panel only exception being those who vehemently agree with both opposing opinions causing deep rooted confusion among the conference delegates about what their real opinion is.

But that does not matter, conference is an event for making contacts, network and make friends, if you can. It is not an event for radical opinions, incisive scrutiny and defining ideologies. Conferences have their own charm. They make me feel important, wanted and knowledgeable. It boosts my alter ego and keeps up my motivation up and going. I have met some very interesting personalities during conference. What's more, I could pen down 3 blogs on it. Thanks all those who invited me to their conferences!
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