Confessions of a first time virtual conference speaker – Where’s the bar?

I can’t claim that this is my first Liberal Democrat conference – by a long chalk (snort!). That was back in 1992ish. And I think I made my first conference speech then (or shortly afterwards).

But last night was quite exciting. I attended my first virtual Liberal Democrat conference and made my first virtual conference speech.

I have to say that I was very impressed indeed by the whole set-up. Well done to Geoff Payne and the team for an excellent job putting it on!

It’s just like attending a “terrestial/physical” conference except for the absence of a certain essential facility – of which, more later.

I haven’t spoken at conference for a while. In fact, I think the last time I spoke was in 2013 when we rejected the idea of an automatic block on internet pornography.

I only really speak when “the muse moves me” – and yesterday the muse literally booted me sideways in the direction of the virtual “speakers desk”.

I wanted to get something off my chest about the complaints process and “Constitutional Amendments: Motion F8 Complaints Procedure” was the perfect opportunity to do so – despite its uninspiring and typically LibbyDemmy title!

The whole virtual speaking process is very exciting and very impressive. Writing a speakers’ card is always quite an art. Shall I be for the motion or against the motion? Many people say that if you think most people are going to submit a card in favour of the motion, in order to get a decent chance of speaking, you should put yourself down as against the motion and think of a clever way to agree with the motion but also disagree with it. The normal very traditional Liberal Democrat way of doing this is to say that you whole-heartedly agree with the motion but that you are opposing it “because it does not go far enough”. Even now, I am chuckling at this time-honoured way of trying to sneak up to the podium!

Anyway, when I submitted my card, I genuinely agreed with the motion, so submitted a card in favour.

The next part of the process is that you receive a phone call from the chair of the debate, an hour or so before it starts. That was very exciting. The call was from Geoff Payne, the very same chair of the conference committee alluded to above. Indeed, it was he! I found myself bowing as I spoke to him. (This was after a minor panic because, for some reason, my phone rejects calls from everyone except my nearest and dearest!).

Would I still like to speak? – Geoff asked. Youbetcha! – was my response. He said I would be put in a “holding pool” and might not be called. I didn’t mind.

I then received an email from the highly impressive technical gurus who do the speaking techie stuff.

First of all, I had to click on a Zoom link to attend a call with a techie person – about an hour before the debate. That was fun. I could see him squinting to see if I had any pornographic magazines on display behind me. Fortunately, I had hastily removed them all before the call (joke). So sound and vision was checked and it was all OK. Well, it should have been. I have a very posh microphone which has been used by Bob Dylan, Chris Martin and Sheryl Crow (amongst many other stars) – a result of being a volunteer with our local community radio station (Kennet Radio 106.7FM online and on your mobile – since you ask).

Stage two was to go into the “holding pool”, as Geoff referred to it. I would call it the “holding pen” – because we were a bit like sheep being held in a pen prior to being shorn of our fleece (or worse – “lambs to the slaughter” anyone?). This was a Zoom room. What followed was very strange but also very good and typically LibbyDemmy. You have to put your main Hopin conference audio on pause. So everything goes quiet and then, in total silence, you see half a dozen or so people appearing in the same Zoom room as you. They are all very nervously adjusting spectacles, clearing throats, re-Reading speeches (no doubt thinking “can I really get away with saying that?!”) and the like… Oh! I didn’t expect that. Awkward! Are these people in favour of the motion or against? – I wondered. It turned out they were both. There was a distinct lack of any Zoom waves or even smiles or “hellos”. But gradually, the ice melt on the chat.

Then you sit in the Zoom “holding pen” room and work out your chances of being called. I worked out that, if there was an even split of “for” and “against” speakers and a balance of people, then I wouldn’t be called.

How wrong I was. I was the third speaker in the debate.

So, all of a sudden, I go from the silence and subdued “chat” of the “holding pen” and I am thrust – one could say booted (again) by my Muse – out into the limelight and razzmatazz of the actual conference and 600-odd people watching. Blimey.

Fortunately, I had my trusty script in size 14 font with 1.5 line spacing, which I had read through about eighteen times with a stop watch.

So, the speech was delivered with all the panache and passion that I could muster.

Then what?

Well, the next question I asked myself was:

Where’s the bar?

PS. I should say that, in a very traditional Liberal Democrat way, I was persuaded by the speakers in the debate to change my mind. So I started off supporting the motion, and speaking for it, but the arguments of Jennie, Henry, David and George persuaded me to change my mind and vote against the motion. It was not carried with a sufficiently large majority, so it will have to go back to the drawing board.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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This entry was posted in Conference, Humour and Op-eds.


  • Geoff Payne 20th Mar '21 - 5:52pm

    Thanks for those kind words, Paul. Glad you enjoyed the experience!

  • Thanks Paul, for some good feedback from your first experience.
    I’ve made a note of the need for a virtual bar/lounge where speakers can relax with colleagues after their presentation, before going offline to the isolation of home.

  • Sorry I missed you I must have been elsewhere in LD cyberspace ! Glad it was fun I’m way too scared ….. but did get in to the Q and A : forgot where

  • Well done Meg!

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