So, a Talker and a Grump walk into a meeting ...

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 March, 2009, 12:00am

I had a meeting on Friday - an internal discussion on our communication strategy. While the subject was not one I am able to get enthusiastic about, I always enjoy the social interaction of the meeting setting. It tends to be that there are a few key players who determine the nature of the discussion:

The Uninterested - this is the guy (it is generally a guy) who leans back in his chair for most of the time and makes no effort to hide his interest in his Blackberry. He is unlikely to contribute, but if asked, he will agree with whatever position is on the table, or will comment that someone else has already made the point he was going to make. This person is either in discussion on a new job with another bank or is genuinely good at what he does and therefore feels comfortable displaying a lack of interest.

The Talker - most people are keenly aware and oversensitive to the way the audience reacts when they speak, which is the main reason so many people are afraid of public speaking. The Talker has the opposite problem; he is oblivious to the reaction of the audience and so is capable of continuing to talk long after everyone has forgotten the subject he is talking about.

The Keen - this is the person who listens, asks questions and makes observations throughout the whole meeting. These people tend to lengthen the time it takes to get through the agenda and will amaze and infuriate everyone by asking questions at the end of huge Talker monologues.

The Grump - this is an intimidating figure who, from time to time, tells the speaker they are talking a lot of rubbish or interjects with statements such as, 'Actually, the way things really work in real life ...' Only relatively senior people are lucky enough to get this privilege.

The Conciliator - this is the person who tries to step into conflicts with remarks like, 'I think we can all agree that there are two very valid views here.' Or, 'I think we've exhausted that topic, perhaps we should move on.' This is the character I least enjoy, as their do-gooder compromises always ruin the rare moments of excitement.

The Deer in the Headlights - also known in Australia as a Stunned Mullet, this guy is usually a bit more junior than everyone else and spends the entire meeting dreading the moment he is called on to speak or praying that he is not noticed. Some Deer are better at hiding this than others, but they make up a large proportion of meetings.

As I mentioned, Friday's meeting was to discuss the bank's communication strategy. This is a popular topic at the moment, as the bank continues to try to explain why it is not going to collapse. The PR team put together a strategy for presentation to the rest of us.

The PR guy, Brandon, is a well-known Talker. He is incredibly enthusiastic about what he has come up with and never seems to notice we all think that he's hopeless.

'Our new messaging involves the following key talking points,' Brandon says. 'First, our new management team is well positioned to guide the bank through the current economic climate. Second, we are continually working to improve the quality of the assets on our balance sheet; and third, we are focused on creating value for our stakeholders.'

Brandon unveils a nicely designed Powerpoint slide illustrating each of these 'messages' and looks very pleased with himself, despite the number of raised eyebrows around the room.

As often happens when Brandon gives us presentations, we begin to throw as much criticism at him as we can think of to see whether we can reduce him to a Deer in the Headlights.

I get in the first blow: 'So, we think we have the right management team in place. Don't we always think we have the right management team in place? And do we really have the credibility to say this, given what the last management team got up to?'

Then Uninterested Bob speaks up: 'Actually, how are any of these things messages? Don't all banks continue to improve their assets and try to create value all of the time? None of this is new.'

Then Harry chimes in with a typically Grumpy remark: 'This is really a pointless presentation, Brandon. Is this the best you and your team could come up with?'

Now Conciliator steps in to defend Brandon and even the normally Keen younger members of the team can't think of any questions to change the subject.

Then, just as Harry is about to launch another salvo of abuse, Brandon remembers the last part of his presentation: 'Oh yes, sorry, there's one more part to this message. The CEO wants all of you to pay back your bonuses.'

Suddenly everyone in the room is a Deer in the Headlights - everyone except Brandon, that is.

Contact Alan Alanson at