|Vice President—Content/Editorial Director, Ruthanne Terrero|
It always amazes me how, at a trade show, some attendees think it’s really okay to sit and talk during a general session or panel discussion. Just think of it: These people actually got on a plane, checked into a hotel, got dressed and came downstairs, only to sit down and start chatting away as soon as the lights went out and the speaker got to the podium.
We’ve all endured it. The speaker says just one thing and that prompts two people near you to start going at it. These conversations seem to take longer to complete than those that go on when the lights are on. They’re incessant, in fact. It’s tempting to tune in to figure out what in the world they’re saying. It’s certainly not, “I’m bored, let’s go to the bar and get a drink.” That would be a blessedly short conversation to overhear. And it’s clearly not, “This is so interesting, I can barely believe it.” I think it’s more along the lines of, “Someone knocked over my mailbox and so I got in my car and found out who it was and then got into a fight with them. Now, they’re suing me for scratching their Volkswagen with my car keys, but my cousin is a lawyer and he found out that they’re operating a brothel from their home, so I think it’s going to turn out okay. But I forget to tell you first that the roof blew off my house during that storm last week.”
Often as not, however, I am pretty sure that the person doing all of the talking is a manager of some sort, who has forced an employee sitting next to them into enduring this diatribe. The poor employee can only sit and nod as they miss an entire presentation that they have flown in to hear.
Can we as an industry decide that we’re no longer going to accept this behavior and just “shush” these people? If they ignore us, let’s do it again until they stop or walk out in a huff. Good riddance.
I recently sat at a conference where a chatty duo sat against the wall of the room and talked the entire time, because, as we all know, when you’re sitting against a wall, no one can hear what you’re saying. It was a huge distraction.
I’ll take it a step further. A few years ago, when I was moderating a panel, I was surprised to see a woman approach me at the podium and hand me a note. In it she wanted me to ask the woman in the front row to stop speaking on her cell phone. I looked over, and there she was, with her hand cupped over the phone, going at it. I had two choices—either interrupt the panelists who were having a lively discussion on stage and ask the woman to please hang up the phone or leave, or ignore her. It was painful, especially when I realized that stopping everything to call her out would change the entire feeling in the room and distract everyone. So, we all politely waited for her to stop. Which she eventually did. And none of us could hear her anyway, because we all know when you cup your hand over the phone as you’re speaking into it, no one can hear you.
So let’s agree to ask these people to stop chatting during our conferences—and we won’t feel embarrassed doing it. They’re the rude ones and it’s they who should be embarrassed at being such fools among their colleagues in a professional setting.