By now, most of us are well-acquainted with the perils and positives of Zoom work. While screens freezing and connection issues are a pain, at least you can appear in court wearing shorts and flip-flops beneath the screen.
But one drawback is emerging this autumn as the conference season starts again in virtual form. The poor speakers are having to stare into a screen, faced with a list of names or thumbnail pictures who can give no reaction to their illuminating speech. Whilst attendees are present in theory, speakers have no idea whether people are enjoying what they’re saying or even still listening.
Supreme Court justice Lord Kerr, giving the keynote speech today at the Expert Witness Institute conference, faced this very issue of speaking into a void. He ploughed on manfully, and even took the opportunity to break off on a tangent for an anecdote involving former colleague Lord Neuberger.
In truth, it wasn’t a rib-tickler, but in normal circumstances the politeness of the audience and herd mentality would ensure it got a laugh at least. Instead the poor judge finished his story and waited in silence before the chair could unmute herself, by which time he was apologising for his diversion and looking more than a little sheepish.
Obiter wonders whether some tech whizzkid might invent a laughter track along the lines of the fake crowd noise imposed over football matches played to empty stadia. With these conferences set to be remote for some time yet, we need to find some way to make sure speakers feel appreciated.