The “Good Listener”
The “Good Listener” harbors within her a dire need to interrogate something the speaker said maybe half an hour ago while telling an off-the-cuff anecdote about a tangential topic. You probably don’t remember the anecdote, and in fact, the speaker probably doesn’t either. But to the paranoid and deluded Listener, this one mundane detail of the story represents nothing short of a gateway to an arcane and essential truth. Once fixated, The Listener will not rest until she gets that recipe for the speaker’s sister’s pound cake.
The Topic Changer
Are you at a talk with a chef? The Topic Changer has a question about the gravest threat to American cybersecurity today. Have you just sat through a chat with a retired diplomat? The Topic Changer would like to know whether they prefer border collies or wheaten terriers, please. It may not make sense to anyone else, but in the perverse mind of The Topic Changer, to leave the auditorium without knowing Mark Rylance’s favorite flavor of ice cream would constitute an injustice of the highest order.
The Preambler has a question, but much as Michelangelo famously chipped away at everything that wasn’t David to produce his masterpiece, so too must The Preambler systematically reject everything that is not The Question before he can arrive at The Question. Don’t bother trying to rush him along, lest your interruption open up new channels of thought he hadn’t previously considered. Just take a deep breath and pray The Preambler doesn’t start talking about his master’s thesis.
The Cutesy Tootsy
As deceptively innocent as she is sadistic, The Cutesy Tootsy has come to the event with a query both twee and unoriginal. Who would the speaker like to dine with, living or dead? What’s the speaker’s desert island disc? Had the speaker been given the question in advance, they might have come up with a good answer, but alas, now that they’re on the spot, the speaker will invariably give up and say they would’ve liked to split a bucket of KFC with Lincoln or something.
Most audience members in attendance have purchased tickets because of an interest in the speaker’s work. Not The Just-For-Me. No, this hopelessly narcissistic creature has decided to roll the dice and hope that the speaker can address a personal issue so specific that it cannot possibly apply to anyone else. The Just-For-Me would like to know what book to get his father for his birthday. The Just-For-Me wants to know if the speaker has seen this one movie. Everyone else wants to move on.
The Commenter harbors in his diseased heart a rabid and undying love for the speaker. So monomaniacal is this love that The Commenter, though he has no questions, feels he must say something, anything to the speaker, and so he says the six words that would make any sane person recoil in horror: “I have more of a comment.” Since The Commenter has become untethered from the rules of reality and civil society, the rest of the audience should feel liberated to hurl food, shoes, and insults at The Commenter until he’s brought to his senses.
The Headscratcher’s only affliction is that she has an itch on the top of her head, and in the process of scratching it, her briefly aloft hand has been mistaken for an intentionally raised one. Thank God she doesn’t have a question.