Have you ever been to a conference, seminar or a meeting when you’ve been made to sit quietly while some Monologist pontificates from the stage, the lectern or somewhere slightly out of view, up the front?
I end up doing that a lot, apart from the “sit quietly” bit. Monologist is a lovely word, that has been forever spoilt in my mind, by these events. Instead of an eloquent soliloquy of linguistic luxury, the word now brings forth the vision of a lectern grabbing, stage diving, vacuous egomaniac. I really should stop going to conferences.
You see, I can’t help but get a little nervous, when the Monologist sets off a series of small explosions in my Bullshit Gland. We’ve all got a BSG. It’s a deep emotional sense that creates an uncomfortable squirmy feeling, makes you fidget like an itchy arse, a slightly bad smell that turns up your nose, something visceral that you can sense but wouldn’t necessarily want to put your finger on, even if you could. Idiots are easy, they just talk rubbish and you get bored. Monologists deploy well crafted plausibility that seeps effortlessly into the psyche of an audience lulled into passivity.
In my experience there are a couple of sparks that tickle the touch paper, ignite the BSG and protect you from infection. I encourage you to enjoy the feeling of a warm BSG when the monologue …
- seems to be perfectly aligned with the conference main sponsor
- is surrounded by an overtly distracting whizzy presentation thingy
- says the problem is culture or leadership or some other nebulous catchall
- advocates a linear 3/5/7/12 step recipe to solving all problems
- uses the word ‘model’ to refer to a selection of words drawn into a shape
- appears to be proselytising something owned by the Monologist
- is awash with quotations full of broad, socioreligious platitudes
- appears to be neatly scripted with sentences on slides spoken verbatim
- justifies the Monologists with an appeal to authority/time/qualification
- uses pseudoscientific word conjunctions like neuro or nano or techno
- inadvertently uses arguments that are classic logical fallacies
I could go on, as my all time record holding Monologist (a software pedlar) reached a staggering 26BSG within 45 minutes. I was literally bouncing in my seat.
I can hear you saying, “oh this is really cynical”. Which is in itself ironic, as cynicism keeps getting a bad press because of a misinterpretation. A cynic is not bad or good, they simply do not trust other peoples motivations at face value. Sceptic is perhaps less derogatory but either way, as the opposite of naive, I require some evidence and a real life demonstration that both stimulates and attends to a little critical thinking. As an old Greek bloke once put it, equal measures of Ethos, Pathos and Logos. Checking that ideas stand up to scrutiny is an incredibly difficult task for someone amidst a passified conference audience. After all, the Monologist seems like a really nice guy? So let’s check.
Wait until they are off the stage, out of the lime light, sometime after the adrenaline has subsided and they are perhaps, a little off guard. Then, when nobody is really looking or listening, ask them an open question about the origin of their ideas. I’m not telling you what answer is right or wrong, just stand close, look them in the eye while they are talking and you’ll work it out for yourself.
Off the stage, with no audience, and not knowing who the hell you are, do they break out of monologue and into conversation. Do they speak about the same ideas in deep, rich, colourful and technically detailed terms? Do they enjoy this time, give away references and pointers and tell stories of the arseholes and inspirations that fuelled their curiosity in the first place? Do they actually believe what they said on the stage and if they don’t are they willing to share it?
This is my Authenticity Test.
I got it wrong once, to my shame I think my BSG was still firing from the day before, but it turned out to be a paradigm shifting experience for me. The incredibly smarmy shite from the stage, started our conversation by saying “did you like the kissy arse presentation”. He was delivering a message to the audience that was far more sophisticated than I’d given him credit for. Sneaky, eh?