Things I hate about conferences (Editorial)

By John Hobel
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 12/04/2001

The new-found reluctance to travel has put a damper on many conferences. That’s unfortunate because conferences and seminars do offer valuable opportunities for professional development and networking with both colleagues and business contacts.

The conference sector has some challenges ahead, so what better time to take a look at how conferences come off. As a journalist, I’ve covered more than my share of conferences over the years, so here’s some suggestions that can improve the experience for everyone.

Starting times. I once attended a seminar where the keynote speaker started by joking about how all the out-of-town attendees had made it for the first session, but people from the area were conspicuously late or absent. Obviously she was an out-of-towner who never had to make it across town at six in the morning. A little consideration for people commuting daily from outside suburban areas would be nice. My personal rule is, “if it happens before nine o’clock, count me out.”

Coffee. One conference had about 500 delegates and two coffee dispensers. Naturally, a 20-minute lineup formed at every break. Coffee is an essential item at any show for morning wakeups and generally keeping people alert through sessions throughout the day. And don’t forget about offering tea.

The venue. There’s nothing more frustrating than a conference official blocking the door to a session because the room has already been filled to capacity. Particularly, if it’s the one session you truly wanted to take in. Yet, I’ve seen this happen time and time again, and in one case the same health-care association continued to have its annual get together at the same hotel where space was always limited. Recognize when it’s time to move to a larger venue.

The attendees. Just who’s attending, anyway? This is often a problem at conferences with a trade show component. One vendor at a large show bragged to me about how many free passes his firm had given out, boosting overall attendance. He was oblivious to the fact that among the masses he had rounded up, there were precious few people with any buying power. So instead of attendees with the potential to purchase vendor products and services, the show floor was packed with people taking some time off work to collect vendor giveaways. You don’t need a huge quantity of delegates, it’s the quality that counts.

The speakers. Just as some conference planners mistakenly judge success in terms of the number of attendees, others will pack their event with as many presenters as possible. This inevitably leads to a quality control problem with some sessions missing the mark by a wide margin. Opt for a few quality speakers over inviting anyone willing to show up and speak for free.

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