What annoys you about conferences?
I’m preparing to chair the World of Learning conference at the NEC at the end of next month, so it was with great interest I found an article by Sean Coughlan on the BBC website outlining the ten things which make a conference irritating.
I’m one of those people who generally find ‘listicle’ journalism really irritating – in fact, I’m planning to write the 14 things I don’t like about lists. But this one struck a chord because we will all have witnessed some of these traits at a conference in the past.
I particularly like the ‘social media guy’ reference. The social media guy, Coughlan says: “is expected to say things like: ‘Twitter is going completely crazy’. No it's not, it's just a couple of PR hacks faking interest by using a stupid hashtag.” My own experience of trying to follow a conference via Twitter is documented here.
One other irritation according to Coughlan is the final slide in the presentation which is designed to show a different, lighter and more human side to the presenter – a bit like the ‘And finally…’ story at the end of a News broadcast which, hitherto, has been entirely devoted to war, natural disaster, crime, unemployment and terminal illness. I don’t often find this particular PowerPoint crime committed at events dedicated to training and development. One would hope that most speakers from L&D know that these whimsical sign offs are a bit naff at the very least. But I do recognise the issue.
I once worked with an organisation which trained trauma surgeons. As part of reviewing and revising their strategy and approach, I was asked to observe an event in Switzerland. Most of the presentations were in German for a German speaking audience and I guess I followed about 50% of each one. But what stayed with me more than the somewhat gruesome images of broken bones and the operations to repair the damage, was that every presentation finished with a humorous photo. A lot of them featured family pets – usually dogs with cropped pointy ears and a mean and hungry look. Some of them featured the other members of their family – especially if they had cute children (I can only assume that the ones who featured their guard dogs either had no children or really ugly ones). A few featured a funny cartoon or even in a couple of cases a video. In what parallel universe is a serious presentation about life changing trauma surgery enhanced by a video of a cat in a cereal packet? No I don’t know either.
In terms of my recommendations, the first thing I suggested was that all presentations were submitted in advance and converted into a standard format – with funny sign off slides deleted as part of the editing process.
Clearly, as chair of the World of Learning conference I also have some responsibilities. To avoid a couple of Coughlan’s other irritants, I shall keep people to time and ensure that proper questions - not solely driven by the ego, pomposity or ‘look at me’ neediness of the questioner - are asked and properly answered by those presenting.
Sean Coughlan has given me an instructive and amusing list to work to. But what would your other conference irritants be? Any things I should particularly look out for? I look forward to your suggestions.
Robin Hoyle is the Chair of the World of Learning Conference, September 30th to October 1st at the NEC, Birmingham. He has been a trainer, learning designer and consultant for the past 28 years and is now Senior Consultant with Learnworks Ltd. He is also the author of Complete Training – from recruitment to retirement. He will be signing copies of his book at the World of Learning exhibition which runs alongside the conference.
Robin Hoyle is a writer and consultant working with organisations large and small to implement change through people development. He has a long track record of strategic L&D leadership and materials development and design - working for a wide range of organisations in private, public and voluntary sectors in the UK and throughout the world...