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Making Your Mark

I attended a conference recently at which I’d also been asked to speak. The brief was very clear – each speaker had been allocated a half hour slot in which to deliver a talk for around 20 minutes and then take Q&A. I don’t know about you, but I appreciate that kind of clarity – it helps me prepare.

The first guy on stage was someone I’d been looking forward to hear from, and although he spent a little too long at the start telling us about himself (yawn – we care about this bit far less than you do Mr Speaker), his talk started to follow an interesting path. The 20 minutes passed quickly and it became clear to me that he was going to overrun. Someone at the back of the room was busy deploying the classic ‘shut up and sit down’ sign by rapidly drawing their hand across their throat, and the presenter sailed on. And on. And on.

The half hour concluded with a fire alarm test (we had been warned earlier) and despite the repeated klaxon sound, our presenter carried on. He fought his way bravely through the alarm and persisted for a further ten minutes. As his talk rumbled on a few tweets appeared along the lines of ‘yeah yeah, we get it already, get a move on’. Someone tweeted from beyond the room ‘I’m sure no one will mind Mister X overrunning, he’s such a compelling speaker’, which prompted a few choice replies. Here are two of my personal faves:

“fire alarm announcement, and wailing – at last some insight”

“I have a slide deck and you are going to see them all regardless”

Mister X stretched a twenty minute talk out to forty minutes, left no time for questions and threw the whole schedule out of whack. He made a powerful mark – and not in the way he intended. Note to the conference chair – next time, please intervene and stop the torture.

Subsequently – Mister X chose to blame the fire alarm for him overrunning, conveniently ignoring the fact that he was supposed to have been done and dusted before said alarm even started. He got short shrift from the Twitterverse on this point and has not been seen since (well he probably has – it’s just that we’re not looking anymore).

The day carried on in fine form and the rest of the speakers were informative, enjoyable to listen to and on time. At the end of the event, there was a generous chunk of time put aside for a panel Q&A. Normally I hate these – and I had to be coaxed up to participate, sorry about that. I was wrong to be reluctant, the audience had loads of questions and the discussion bounced around the room freely and usefully.

At the close, the conference chair did a quick who’s who type run through, starting with Mister X who had long since departed, presumably to screw up someone else’s schedule. This is what the chair said. ‘First we had Mister X (loooong pause), he overran.’ That was it – the sum total, the full stop under Mister X’s appearance. He overran.

You will have an opportunity to make your mark today, how will you choose to do it?

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