When you open your mouth and betray your ignorance

I do a lot of public speaking. And quite a lot of articles, blogs and so forth. In each case I try to, in my own small way, educate, amuse, provoke thought and stimulate discussion.

The goal of sharing and discussing is always one of promoting a greater understanding of the subject matter, and a fostering of a collaborative approach to business matters which has its roots in a real belief that we all benefit when we co-operate and communicate.

Blatant pitches for product or service sales tend to get short shrift from audiences who want to learn, compare and then make their own decisions, in their own time. In my own specialist field, alternative funding for SMEs, this mature approach to educating and sharing has been evident for some time, as marketing departments and entrepreneurial founders have understood that simply bellowing the benefits of your own proposal and attempting to drown out the competition renders your status in the eyes of your audience as that of the village idiot.

Nowhere is this professionalism and courtesy more evident than on the many panel sessions I have participated in. Today’s quality panellist listens courteously to his panel colleagues, is insightful and helps the audience understand the points under discussion by referring to the strengths of the various products the group are considering, even if some may be in direct competition with one’s own proposition. This wasn’t always the case, but it’s now a measure of the rapidly maturing mind set of many alternative funding providers that they are sufficiently self-confident as to approach such gatherings as genuinely educative opportunities, not p*****g contests. Thus they are often very enjoyable and good friends and alliances frequently result.

Imagine my surprise, if you will, at a turn of events that befell me during a recent panel appearance. The subject matter was the same as always, SME finance, and there were many familiar and friendly faces present. And a complete buffoon.

Having given the assembled guests a brief update on the progress of an important piece of legislation and shared some personal experiences relating to it, I was ready to move into some further thoughts on how this might affect our audience over the coming months and years. Enter buffoon, who effectively hijacked the discussion, to the amazement of my fellow panellists, and the embarrassment of the somewhat ineffective moderator. He proceeded to deliver a lengthy rant about how wrong the entire British Government were in trying to secure better access to funding for small business, how everyone in the panel had got it wrong, apart from him, how George Osbourne had let everyone down by this particular initiative (notwithstanding that it was actually originally Vince Cables initiative) and finally how his particular business proposition was the only one worth using, the inference being that collectively his co-panellists were peddling the financial equivalent of snake oil.

Based on the embarrassing silence that followed this outburst I am clear that he not only made a fool of himself in the eyes of the professionals present, but also the invited audience. I suspect that buffoon skin is too thick for that to have registered, however.

My point, I suppose, is this. Such attitudes and behaviour are completely unnecessary. If you really have something insightful and interesting to say you don’t need to shout down those around you, people will listen. A look at the accounts of the business belonging to this particular buffoon has given me a good understanding of why he might feel the need to emulate the empty oil drum, but in reality his behaviour will only continue to make things worse for himself. You can’t bully people into agreeing with you, no matter how loud you shout, or how big the chip on your shoulder.

I know this is a bit off topic for me, but over the years I have come to like and respect a huge number of my contemporaries in this innovative and dynamic market. There are some fearsome intelligences at work, some genuine wits and a whole lot of people wanting to do the right thing. Buffoons like this have no place in such an environment.
Rant over.