When you have been to as many conferences as I have, especially those dealing with politics and public policy, you start to see the same people. Not necessarily the same faces, but the same types. Let’s see if you recognize some of them too:
Details, Details — This is the fellow who, who presented with a straightforward clause in a very simple resolution, will query the placement of every comma, semi-colon, and article. Nuance isn’t his middle name, but nuisance certainly is.
I Don’t Understand — This person always acts like he’s in the wrong breakout session, or possibly even the wrong conference. In spite of having listened to the same panel of speakers as everyone else, he never seems to know what the topic is, and clearly has not read any of the background information provided. He’s the one who interrupts every 15 minutes with agonizingly obvious questions.
Snoozer — You can find one of these at just about any gathering, particularly if the conference room is warm, or if everyone’s just had lunch. This is the person who distracts you by nodding off; she either snores very loudly, or you have to watch with horrified fascination to see when she will go nose first into the carpet.
Social Gadfly — These people attend conferences strictly for the schmoozing and boozing. Unfortunately, they’re not very good at either. At the opening reception, if you look friendly, they will glom on to you and then sit beside you at every session throughout the conference. They will talk your ear off, usually about personal stuff, at close range, and smelling strongly of rum.
Free Food And Drink — You see these people at every meal, in every hospitality suite, and in the corridors on coffee break. Strangely, you never see them in the actual conference sessions. You suspect they may be local college students, guests from the wedding being held three floors up, or strays from last week’s sales conference.
Point of Order — This woman, who has the entire book “Robert’s Rules of Order” memorized, will halt proceedings frequently and loudly, chastising the speaker, the moderator and the audience for not adhering to procedure. This is even when the moderator has declared the session to be informal.
Axe to Grind — There’s always at least one person with “issues” at these things. They attend conferences solely so they can stand up as often as possible to rant. They usually don’t bother with a microphone and, nine times out of ten, the things they’re peeved about have nothing to do with the topic of the gathering.
Precocious Youngster — A relatively rare species, this one comes in two types. Both are young, well-groomed, astonishingly well-informed, and articulate. One will impress your socks off and make you wonder if your kids will be as bright. The other will have been told he or she is very bright too many times, and be obnoxious enough to make you want to cuff them.
Commentator — This person, usually an older male, takes the floor to “speak to an issue.” His comments will be long and rambling, and will never come to a point, pose a question or add anything of value to the session. Mostly he’s there to hear the sound of his own voice.
Moderator — Finally, I’ve determined there are two types of moderators or chairpersons: Bad and Worse. A Bad Moderator will let every character in the room run roughshod over the proceedings. Point of Order Lady will never be told where to put her copy of Robert’s Rules; nor will Axe to Grind Guy be told to save it for a one-on-one after the main presentation. A half hour meeting will drag to five, perhaps six hours under a Bad Moderator.
The Worse Moderator — Embittered by sitting through one too many Bad sessions, will cut the power to the sound system and throw conference literature at anyone who dares approach the mic. They wrap up the session within 10 minutes and spend the rest of the allotted time at the bar, head in hands.
The mods, at least, have my sympathies.