So, am just back from this rather weird conference – run by NATO and the Swedish government; I was on a panel with three foreign ministers, two members of parliament and one senior US diplomat (#3 in the State Department, Condoleeza Rice being #1 and Zoellick #2). Basically everyone made speeches, and then I tried to inject some sense into it (speaking last – will post the transcript tomorrow). Then the chair (one of the foreign inisters) took contributions from the floor, starting with another foreign minister who happened to be in the audience and then a deputy foreign minister, then down to NATO ambassadors. The only two others of lesser rank who spoke were a rather strange Canadian diplomat and a friend of mine from the Belgrade NGO community.
The whole thing was meant to be a dialogue between us policy types and the actual policy makers. But the dialogue didn’t really happen – once the chair had allowed the first long speech to be made, everyone else felt they could do the same. The French and American panellists managewd to bring out the worst in each other (uncharacteristic I know for the American, and I’m told by those who know him also unusual behaviour for the French guy). And the ambassadors were just awfully boring.
The lesson for me is that if you have a time limit you should stick to it, no matter who the first speaker is. Once you have done that, the rest of the meeting will go smoothly.