Why Are So Many Conferences So Awful?

Sitting and waiting recently for a conference to begin, noticing that once again a keynote speaker from government wasn’t going to pitch – a depressingly frequent occurrence – I started working on a list of things the organisers of such events should consider. It doesn’t take a lot of extra money to get it right, but it is truly astonishing how few events are well planned and hosted.   For what it is worth, here are a few ideas from one who has suffered frequently at conferences and presentations which have been awful.

1). Half an hour before this latest conference was due to kick off, there was still no one from the organisers to hand out badges, copies of the agenda, and to meet and greet.   Given the unpredictability of rush-hour traffic, it is quite usual for people to start to trickle in early, and someone should be there to absorb the trickle.   A failure to be on duty in good time is both lazy and rude.  What then annoyed me even more was the late start.   It is a discourtesy to people who can and do turn up on time to delay the proceedings for the benefit of the latecomers.   Ministers and government officials tend to be the worst offenders, but journalists are pretty terrible as well.

2). When the agenda did get handed out, it did not contain the full names of the speakers, some of whom were substitutes, so I had to often guess their names. Topics seemed to be juggled around as well.   This was not acceptable.

3). Once it all got underway, most of the presentation slides were in such a small font they could not be easily read. Why are speakers so blinkered? Why do they clutter their slides instead of giving clear and simple bullet points?   Something which looks OK on a computer screen may be really challenging when it is projected on to a larger screen in a large venue.

4). The event was held in an auditorium with no visible power points. To add insult to injury, some goon handed out free notepads and pens. This is the 21st century, you people! Phones, tablets and laptops have replaced papyrus and ink. Now give me a phone or a computer, and I will come to all of your conferences, and may even decide not to complain about the crap coffee.

5). It was difficult to take notes on my tablet, as the tiny pullout table was too small for my IPad, let alone my laptop. I know it is called a laptop, but I really don’t want it resting on my crotch for hours on end.   The seating was in an auditorium, and not at rows of tables, the latter being my preferred arrangement for those of us who are planning to follow the proceedings, and not those who pretend we are MPs in the parliament chamber, and quietly doze off.

6). It was almost impossible to hear at least one of the speakers as their mike skills were poor.     And the content of some of the presentations overlapped. It was clear that not a lot of work had gone into preparing for this conference, which meant that it was less valuable than it should have been.

7). The MC was awful, as is often the case. He failed to properly introduce the speakers, and seemed keener on telling bad jokes than on keeping things running smoothly, or announcing changes to the schedule. I do hope that taxpayers’ money was not wasted on paying him a fee (it was a government event). Mind you, it is seems to be a growing trend for MCs to indulge themselves at the expense of the audience. And yet the organisers of such events appear indifferent to this poor performance. Maybe they are spending too much time raking in the cash?

8). The food was not to my taste, but others seemed to enjoy it. Catering at conferences can be good but is usually dire. Even when a lot of corporate money is involved, the organisers appear oblivious to the difference between good and evil. No wine was offered with lunch, which was a shame as I really could have done with a drink. Mind you, I recently attended an evening function and was told there would be no booze until it was over. Not my idea of hospitality.   There seems to be a belief that drink is a danger, whereas I tend to regard it as a social lubricant. Let’s face it, the Cape wine industry is one of the wonders of this country, and no opportunity should be missed to support it.

9).   People can’t always listen to every presentation during a conference, and certainly can’t copy down every point in a gabbled slide presentation.   Where speeches and presentations are available they should be speedily posted on a website, or if access is to be restricted, they should be e-mailed to delegates.

That’s all for now.   See you at the next conference. I will be the one sulking in a corner, gobbling my take-away pizza and taking large glugs from my hip flask.

Tweet of the Day:

Shit Jokes (@ShitJokes): I’m not saying I hate you, but I would unplug your life support to charge my phone.

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