I was at a conference recently and attended a panel discussion. Panel discussions are where experts sit at a table and tell you what they think, then the audience is allowed to go to a microphone and ask questions.
I don’t like panel discussions because they make me feel stupid.
It’s like a football player feels when he sits in a class full of straight A students. It gives me flashbacks of postgraduate school (picture a guy with a Latin American Studies degree trying to learn physics and math – it wasn’t pretty).
Not only that, but like everyone in the room I feel compelled to ask a question. I know the Q and A session is coming, so I can’t concentrate on what the experts are saying because I’m trying to come up with an intelligent question. This aggravates the problem because by the time I come up with a good line of inquiry I have missed most of the discussion, which may or may not have addressed the very question I planned to ask. Besides, everyone else in the room will instantly judge whatever I say. I don’t want to appear stupid (as opposed to just feeling stupid), so I don’t ask.
Another thing – and this only happened at this particular panel discussion, someone who DID have the guts to stand up and wait to ask an intelligent question was my old XO.
I say old because he was my XO many, many years ago. He hadn’t changed much, but I had, so there was a fighting chance he wouldn’t recognize me in the audience. And as I sat there, something happened that is difficult to explain.
I had an overwhelming urge to creep up behind him and goose him.
What could go wrong? Sure, he was an Admiral, but he was retired. I was retired. He couldn’t react because the rest of the audience, still in their seats trying to come up with a good question, had nothing better to do than stare at the guy waiting at the microphone. He would have to be stoic. When he turned around, I would just smile and say, “Hi, XO.”
It would be great.
Maybe the cartooning business has gotten to me. Maybe I have regressed to adolescence. But for the first time ever, I actually began to stand up at a panel discussion to head for the microphone. It did not occur to me that by doing so I would eventually be expected to actually ask a question of my own – that didn’t matter. All that mattered was the goose. It became the most important thing in my mind and nothing was going to stand in my way.
Then, over the roar of the raw adrenaline rushing into my bloodstream, I heard the XO speak into the microphone and ask a question.
It was a good one. The panelists took it seriously and answered thoughtfully. More to the point, my moment of opportunity was lost. In an instant, it was over. I sat down, frustrated, sad, and crashing from the adrenaline rush.
Some time later I contacted my old XO and told him the story. His response, as one would expect from a man with the reputation for compassion and social grace: “No guts, no glory.”
I felt so stupid.