I've been attending fewer panels than usual--at the moment, I'm on track to see five or six over the conference's three days--but as usual some have been good, some bad, and others might have been good had their papers been better delivered or I not undercaffeinated, overfatigued, or wedged into a hot, crowded room with a whirring exhaust system.
Given the effort required to focus on anything for 75 minutes, I often blank out for a minute or two during even the best papers--and during the not-best I may give up the attempt to follow along at all. Because I've been civilized (or trained in the arts of dissimulation, which amounts to the same thing) I usually manage not to show my lack of engagement, instead keeping my eyes fixed on the speaker with a look of intensity or encouragement, laughing when the rest of the room does and smiling now and again as a recognizable phrase or fact penetrates my brain.
I always feel a bit bad about this--even when I'm secretly and simultaneously envisioning a panelist's head exploding and cutting short her talk--but it wasn't until today, as I sat there letting a speaker's words pass unimpeded through my brain, that it occurred to me that I was probably feeling what my students sometimes feel listening to me: that even while I was certain that what I was saying was hilarious, or vital, or even just reasonably interesting, they were wishing I'd be done already. . . and registering only vaguely that I seemed to be joking, or hammering home a point, all while mysteriously delighted with my own charm and brilliance.
I skipped the next session. Self-knowledge is overrated.