At the Conference

A recent thread at talkRA turned to a discussion about the boredom that has become characteristic of RA conferences. I am inclined to agree with Eric’s comment that there is generally a lack of sharing of ideas and information, especially from telcos. This made me think of several characters (from telcos and elsewhere) that you will spot at any RA conference. Normally, it is still the same set of characters that you find in this post, but the conference environment shines a different light on them.

The Know it All:  Everybody is wrong except him. No problem is resolved without his say and no topic can be closed before his final word. He is interesting at first and can get a good debate going until he falls madly in love with his own voice. Sadly, whatever value he could add to the conference is quickly undone since the audience never gets a chance to ask anything.

The Know Nothing: No clue and no interest in learning anything (about RA) but if you mention extra-curricular activities, his face will light up. It is possible that he attended the conference as a brief interlude to his shopping trip. Occasionally, you may catch him scowling at the presenter. Later, you will definitely bump into him at the airport with his bag full of duty-free wine bottles and all manner of artifacts. If you are looking for ideas on where to go for disco, bungee jumping, late night chemists, best acupuncture and other manner of services unrelated to the conference but specific to the locality, look no further. I guarantee you that your able guide is here.

The Share Nothing: Possibly an expert is his field, well-accomplished but detests sharing any knowledge. The mild case of this affliction manifests itself in hiding details such as which telco he works for, his role or even how he traveled to the conference (you would think these are state secrets). The severe case of this malady can make the sufferer refuse to tell you the time by his watch. Spotting this character is easy- as soon as he receives the name tag, he stuffs it in his shirt-pocket or inverts it. During coffee break, you may mention that you are launching a new product and it happens that in his market, such a product was launched a while back and resulted in massive revenue leakages before being fixed. His eyes will light up with interest but he will say nothing. There is an air of secrecy around him and he keeps furtively looking over his shoulder. At the dinner table, if you need the salt shaker, you had better reach for it yourself. It is possible that he had a difficult childhood but that does not prevent us from bequeathing him the trophy of RA Lowlife, a bizarre creature in deed.

The Question Asker: This character has a question every time about anything. The tragedy is that all his questions can be answered via a simple Google search. What do you mean by BI? What is Answer Seizure Ratio? What is the difference between a leakage and a loss? Is cloud computing the same as distributed computing? Jeez, while we are at it, why not ask if the hotel staff intend to change the tablecloths for dinner? If there are two microphones in the audience, one of them should be permanently tethered to the Question Asker’s table. He will sometimes ask a very valuable question but do not hold your breath.

The Rephraser: This guy can drive a presenter up the wall, punctuating the presentation every 2 minutes with an ill-timed comment. He typically starts his sentences with:

 “If I may interject, just to put this in perspective…”

 “Let me see if I get what you mean…”

“If I could just restate what you said in order to make it clearer for the rest of the people here who may not know what you meant…” – very charitable fellow in deed.

“If you could just go back to slide 79, no, I mean slide 75….OK, now that we are  at slide 79 anyway, let me just repeat the sticky points from it before we head to slide 75”. Dude, we all heard the points!

If conference timings are not adhered to, the blame can be assigned to the culprits as follows: the Question Asker (40%) and the Rephraser (60%).

The Whiner: He has a complaint about everything- the agenda, seating arrangement, lighting, meals, airport runways, food, even the doorbell. Give him time and he will prove that even the sun is rising from the wrong direction. You lose absolutely nothing by sitting away from him. However, should you wish to make his day, just mention that last night, you noticed the moon was darker than usual and you intend to take up this matter with the conference organizers urgently.

The Absentee: He flew in two days before the conference, checked in to his room and disappeared. He will be back to the hotel to check out and catch a cab to the airport (two days after the end of the conference). He arrived at dusk and will depart at dawn. Nobody knows his name, where he came from, what he has been up to or where he is headed to. For all we know, he could be a national security agent. The only audit trail is in the form of hotel records and boarding passes but we are not sure that was his real name anyway.

The Geek: The geek is forever on his laptop, iPhone, iPad, Kindle and generally any device that possesses enough battery life to enable his quest to distract and annoy anybody in his vicinity. He is usually the first one to know where to get the strongest Wi-Fi signal. It does not matter what is going on in the conference, the roof could come down for all he cares. Amidst all the conference activities, the geek is typing and texting away stuff that is unrelated to what is going on. He may have earphones, in which case he won’t mind watching a couple of videos. At mealtimes, you may catch him hauling off food (mostly tuna sandwiches) from the eating place to the conference room. If there is a lingering smell of fish in the conference room, now you know who to blame. In summary, the geek is physically present but logically absent.

The Delegate: He shares what he has (ideas, knowledge and questions), accepts nothing on face-value and listens to those who have something of value. He is careful not to impose and learns from his more accomplished peers while carefully guiding those of less experience. He takes the conference as a welcome opportunity to engage with vendors, customers, analysts and everybody else around. He immerses himself in new technologies and new methods and ideas yet holds in reverence traditional wisdom. He is an expert at gauging the moods, easing in and out of debate, sharing with those who are receptive and steering clear of those who wish to be left alone. He is not afraid to say that he does not know something and neither does he shy from expressing a different viewpoint even if he may find himself in the minority or completely alone. The Delegate is an observer, teacher and learner all rolled up into one- he will offer his knowledge of the Stowger switch and be ready to be taught about revenue assurance challenges in an IP Multimedia System environment or he may be well-versed in DRM but has no problem listening to tales of Bell and Baby Bells offered by an AT&T veteran. The tragedy of our industry is that he is a dying breed. However, hope is not lost – the Know it All, the Know Nothing, the Share Nothing, the Question Asker, the Rephraser, the Geek and the Whiner may evolve into the Delegate. With regard to the absentee, it might be difficult to make this evolution but do let me know if and when border customs finally catch him.

Me:  Look over your shoulder and I will be right there – I am the diminutive chap in a sombrero hat and shades, adorned with a shaggy beard and an unkempt moustache, complete with white whiskers. An unlit cigar in the mouth is my mark and the smell of tobacco follows me. In my hands will be a tattered coffee-stained, dog-eared notebook and a pen labeled Holiday Inn. I will be watching every step you make, remembering every word you say and noting your mannerisms (especially the bad ones). Therefore, be ye nice to each other; for there is work to be done and you still need each other.

Joseph Nderitu
Joseph Nderitu
Joseph Nderitu is a director at Integrated Risk Services Ltd and specializes in revenue assurance. He previously worked as Head of Revenue Assurance and Fraud Management at Vodacom's operation in Tanzania, having previously served in the same role at Vodacom Mozambique.

Before his work with Vodacom, Joseph was an internal audit manager for Airtel, with responsibility that covered their 17 countries in Africa. Whilst at Airtel, Joseph led reviews of the Revenue Assurance, Customer Service and Sales & Marketing functions.

Prior to his stint at Airtel, Joseph was an RA manager at Safaricom in Kenya. He holds an MSc Degree in Information Systems.

3 Comments on "At the Conference"

  1. Can’t agree any less on this. And these varieties are found in offices too – and appear most prominently during management meetings (even though there’s no management talk) and (my fav) conference calls. I have almost felt like strangulating a rephraser once upon a time.

  2. @ Mr. Any: do you mean you can’t agree more?

    @ Joseph: what else can I say? Brilliant post.

    I guess I’m The Question Asker – but what do you think? ;)

    • Joseph Nderitu Joseph Nderitu | 7 Apr 2011 at 7:13 am |

      @Any Yes, meetings are subject to this sort of stuff as well. At least with audio conference calls, you can always do your stuff and only chime in every now and then. In fact if you listen carefully during any audio-only conference, you will hear the sounds of typing, people stirring coffee, chewing, separate conversations… (I plead guilty on this count, but I am sure any court would understand that this practice is common). The danger is that you might find yourself asking a question that has just been answered! Tough luck when you have a video conference session.
      @Eric Thanks for the compliment. I guess the Question Asker is welcome at talkRA. Here we have the liberty of deciding if and when to give an answer!

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