Round Up the Dogs and Ponies, It’s Conference Season!

About the author: John DeLashmit began his EPA career over twenty years ago in Chicago. He spent many years working in EPA’s hazardous waste cleanup programs, and now serves as Chief of the Water Quality Management Branch in EPA’s Kansas City office.

Regional personnel are frequently asked to speak at conferences and meetings to supply information on the latest developments in the Region and Headquarters. The folks want a heads up on what’s coming next in our varied programs, particularly EPA’s “hottest” issues.

We accept as many invitations to present information as our resources allow. We recognize a prime opportunity to meet/converse with the folks that are affected by our statutes, policies, and regulations…our stakeholders. Remember, these stakeholders actually want to hear what we have to say. It’s not an ambush…they’ll gather, of their own free will, in the meeting room or auditorium to listen to us. Many of them have paid registration fees to the organizations hosting the meeting. The pressure to provide something useful is intense!

Our interaction with stakeholders reminds us of our accountability, highlights the tremendous ramifications of our actions, and underscores the fact that we have a huge financial and quality-of-life impact.

Before attending a stakeholder gathering I give my staff some pointers:

  1. Show up early for the event; we’re much more effective if we get a chance to meet members of the audience one-on-one before we take the podium;
  2. Talk to people… conversation will reveal (hopefully) that we’re human beings, not Code of Federal Regulation-quoting robots lacking common sense;
  3. Don’t be a glutton at the table of free coffee and pastries… nothing diminishes credibility like frosting fragments stuck in the corners of your mouth or a coffee stain racing stripe down the front of your shirt;
  4. Make sure to take a quick look around for boxes of rotten tomatoes and rocks, which can be used to provide emphatic negative feedback, and;
  5. Just in case things go in the wrong direction, wear shoes you can run in…you don’t see Olympic sprinters in wing tips, do you?

I’m presenting at one of these gatherings in a couple of days. I’ll be in a room with a couple hundred people, many of them listening raptly to me…I hope. I must admit that I’ve been a little worried since I had The Nightmare. When The Nightmare begins, I’ve just made a dramatic point, pausing in my presentation to look out at the room. Looking up, I see a room of bowed heads. I suddenly realize that they’re not saying an early grace for that rubber chicken lunch; they’re staring down into their laps at their Blackberries! Just before I wake, I realize that I’ve lost my audience to…email!