the conference delegate
ITS the winter months and Tom is trekking round conferences at a rate of two a week.
Ask him what he gets out of it and, well, hes not exactly sure – just a chance to catch up on the news, meet old friends. Afterwards, hell talk, nonetheless, about how fascinating the papers were. How stimulating. How thought-provoking.
Its a quiet time work-wise for the forty-something-year-old consultant – so hes making the most of it. He listens, suited or tweeded, to speaker after speaker explaining what a SWOT analysis is and how businesses today have to be efficient and effective.
And hell chuckle every time he hears the one about how, if all the worlds economists were laid end to end, they still wouldnt reach a conclusion.
Toms a well-known face on the circuit. When he puts his hand up to ask a question – as he always does – he feels a little smug when the chairman refers to him by name. His question will be long – more of a point than a question, really – for our conference-goer, demure as he may appear, quite likes being in the spotlight.
He chuckles as each speaker concludes a presentation with some banal aphorism like: "The future is ahead of us". And then hell clap enthusiastically when asked to show his appreciation in the usual fashion.
Morning coffee and afternoon tea breaks will see Tom in the hall foyer, on his mobile. Hell be using words like "gross margin" or "fixed cost" before heading back in to shake as many hands as possible.
Hell be pouting out his chest, displaying his name badge. Its a good chance to meet people – networking, as he calls it – and, having scanned the delegate list, hell know exactly whos worth meeting and whos not. Its like his mentor in his first job always used to say: "Everyones a potential client, Tom, everyone."
It seems like a lifetime ago, that first job. Hell tell people about it over lunch. The days, he recalls, before BSE, bureaucracy or talk of traceability. Which reminds him: theres a paper immediately after lunch hes particularly looking forward to: "Trace-ability – threat or opportunity".
Unfortunately the wine takes its toll and Tom sleeps through it. Well, not completely through it – he wakes up just in time to hear the speakers closing line: "The future is ahead of us."
And then he rushes out to tell people how stimulating and thought-provoking the paper was.