The Five People You Meet at Every Event
We’re just trying to have a good time here.
In my adult life, I’ve gone to numerous conferences, conventions, workshops, symposiums, whatever you want to call them. Besides having overpriced food, being where bad shoes kill their owners, and providing the best acting practice you’ll ever get, all these events also have another thing in common: the types of people they draw out of the woodwork.
So, without further ado, here are the five types of people I’ve noticed at every event I’ve ever gone to:
1. The Free Consultation
It’s the session before lunch. The content was good and the speaker(s) engaging, but you’re starving. With a bittersweet relief, the talk ends, and breaks out into Q&A. Just a few little questions between you and those sweet, sweet cold cuts.
But then one person puts their hand up, and asks a question, usually about how to apply the takeaways to their specific situation. And then a follow-up. And another. Your hunger is burning a hole in your stomach as your eyes burn a hole in their skull.
This person uses the pressure on speakers to be friendly and helpful in front of the public to corner them into giving them step-by-step instructions on how to plan a project, grow their social media audience, whatever it might be.
It sucks cause it holds the rest of the room hostage while they get a consultation that’s usually initially free anyway through traditional channels. But it also sucks cause that person’s expertise isn’t free. While speakers are there to educate and inform, one has to be careful not to take advantage.
2. The Luddite
This person, presumably, just stumbled out of cryostasis or a time machine, and right into your panel. There is no other explanation, because this person has somehow managed to avoid learning anything at all about far from recent, ubiquitous tools.
Sometimes they’re merged with the Free Consult, such as the person in a session about building an author platform who Q&A’s the speaker into instructing them on how to create a Facebook Page. They tend to ask very Google-able questions, and like the Free Consult, tend to waste a lot of their fellow delegates’ precious time.
These people are dangerous because they can derail a session entirely. My suggestion? Write down your questions, and then take them to someone who is offering advice on that thing. For instance, nearly every public library in existence offers computer literacy courses, and most online businesses have documentation to help you navigate their features/services/products. Learning is wonderful, and we should all be lifelong students, but there’s no need to hold the room hostage for it.
3. The Unplugged
Unlike the Luddite, whose lack of awareness comes from a place of teachable ignorance, the Unplugged delights in telling others how much better they are for not using social media, or not watching TV, or whatever it happens to be. They usually “don’t believe” in whatever it is they’re virtuously abstaining from, and you absolutely will hear about it, even if they have to use the Q&A to tell the room (“Not really a question, more of a comment, but…”).
Again, another time-waster, but with a heaping side dish of elevating themselves by putting down others. When you’re at a marketing session focused on an online presence, and ask the speaker what to do if you’ve opted out of an online presence, what you’re really doing is placing yourself above the speaker and everyone else in the room. It’s not cute.
Disconnecting definitely has its benefits, but, like veganism, you lose most support for what you’re doing when you insist it’s the only moral way of life.
4. Mx. Qualified
I remember sitting in a writing workshop, and the topic was poetry. We’re down to the Q&A portion, and an older white man puts his hand up. He asked the speaker what the difference was between people who do and don’t ‘get’ poetry. And followed this up by quickly explaining that he ‘included [himself] among those that “get it”.’ That’s Mx. Qualified.
That particular question was more of a fishing expedition for validation than a real question to prompt discussion. But in general, Mx. Qualified needs everyone in the room to know their credentials and why they’re an expert, usually through prefacing their question/comment with a brief biography. It does beg the question of why they’re attending talks/panels/workshops/whatever on things they profess to be well versed in already, but perhaps it’s the validation thing again. Or smart networking to be selected as a speaker or panelist in the future.
But what it typically accomplishes more than any of the above is painting the person as self-congratulatory and patronising. It’s not a good look, particularly if it’s inaccurate.
5. The Cringe
This one is admittedly a broad category, but there’s one in every panel, discussion, workshop, and seminar. Maybe it’s the person that shares a piece of self-insert erotica at a short story workshop. Or the one-person peanut gallery, who has to quip on everything the speaker says. Or that person that never learned what an indoor voice was. The Cringe brings the inappropriateness in spades, and everyone will sit through it.
For whatever reason, you now have a room full of people queasy with secondhand embarrassment, and they can’t escape because the Luddite needs an explanation of what a hashtag is. Like most of these people. The Cringe is completely oblivious and probably really enjoying themselves. The speaker/panelists acknowledge the Cringe, not knowing what else to do, and audience members exchange looks.
Good luck dodging these types and navigating your next event with ease!