This has happened twice recently and so many times in the past that I’m going to rant here for a minute. There’s a point, I promise.
I attend several networking events a month and most of them include an educational segment with a featured speaker.
At two recent events I was the victim of the Sidebar Conversation. This is a conversation an attendee starts with his or her “neighbor” – during the presentation. It may be about the topic, but it’s still a conversation while the speaker is speaking. And it’s rude.
The sidebar conversation says three things about the person starting it. For the sake of example I’ll use the female pronoun, but it’s not a gender-specific practice.
- She thinks what she has to say is more important than what the speaker is saying.
- She doesn’t care about what the speaker is saying after whatever prompted her to start talking to her neighbor. (We can’t talk and listen at the same time.)
- She doesn’t care whether the people around her can focus and/or hear the speaker.
In the two most recent cases I had to struggle to hear the speaker while these sidebar conversations were going on. And it wasn’t just a few whispered words – these were full-on conversations!
Additionally, I’ve done a great deal of public speaking and I can tell you that people having sidebar conversations is extremely distracting to the speaker. But the sidebar conversation starter doesn’t care.
The purpose of most networking events is to build relationships. Do you have any interest in building a business relationship with someone who is rude and selfish? I sure don’t. And that’s what this practice is saying to the world.
Here are polite options to the sidebar conversation:
- Make a note of what you’re inspired to share with your neighbor and talk to him or her after the presentation. Better yet, use that as a reason to schedule a coffee with your neighbor so you can strengthen the business relationship – which is built over time.
- Leave the room to have the conversation. Admittedly, it’s unlikely people will do this, but it will make you consider whether what you want to talk about is important enough – in this moment – to leave the room and ask your neighbor to go with you. If it’s not important enough to leave the room, zip it.
- Sit quietly and attentively and listen. If you’re bored, leave.
Networking is a BIG deal to me. So much so that I created a training program to help people do it better. Check out Don’t Be an Atrocious Networker!