Monday, November 18, 2019

Public Speaking

Over the years I have spoken a number of times at public events and, whilst I am now generally reasonably comfortable in addressing an audience, my level of comfort is directly proportional to my familiarity with the topic.

In my early career, getting a speaking slot at a conference was a good way to reach new clients in a reasonably cost effective way - speakers would generally be given a free pass for the rest of the conference so you could network and do some profile raising at the same time. However, most speaking gigs would be offered to the conference sponsors first so any opportunities that did not require sponsorship costs were (a) relatively rare and (b) quite popular with other potential speakers so it was always necessary either to come up with some particularly fascinating topic (not always easy in the legal world) or to seek speaking slots at the more technical or esoteric conferences where the competition for having a paper selected for presentation was likely to be less intense. As a consequence I spent a great deal of time in my early years (particularly when based in Hong Kong) giving presentations on fairly obscure (at least in my professional world) subjects. This tended to make the experience pretty stressful as - whilst one can usually reasearch a fairly narrow topic in reasonable depth to at least make some (mildly) interesting points - you could never avoid the risk that someone in the audience would starting asking some tricky questions. I recall delivering a presentation in Beijing years ago on regulatory developments in offshore wind farms in China (which somewhat disconcertingly was being simultaneously being translated into Mandarin whilst I was speaking) and receiving an incredibly convoluted question in heavily accented English on (I think) the likely inpact of new windfarms on existing subsea structures and who would have to pay for any damage. I am pretty sure that neither the questioner or I were any the wiser on the topic after that particular exchange.

The reason I mention this is that, over the years I have been able to be slightly more discriminating about which topics I present on. However, we are running a panel session as part of a wider conference this week and one of our panellists has had to bow out at the last minute due to illness. The topic is reasonably technical and we are struggling at such short notice to find a replacement and there is some talk that since the topic was allegedly my idea (I am pretty sure it was not but its precise origins have been lost in the mists of time) I should step in. Whilst I have a passing familiarity with some of the issues, I very much do not feel well qualified to fulfil this role. We have around 48 hours to find someone who is better qualified and I am crossing everything in the hope we are successful. Wish me luck as I certainly do not wish to repeat my Beijing experience.

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