Death by Conference

I have not been to a conference in quite some time and I must admit… I hate them.
They don’t add any value and the only thing you get out of it, is that you are able to reconnect with colleagues you haven’t seen for a while.

The standard conference flow goes like this:

  • An opening.
  • A Key Note speech by a speaker whose foremost reason for being up on the podium is that he is the event sponsor.
  • A speech by a person who has never attended a ‘how do I engage my audience’ workshop.
  • A quick snack break, or network session as it is called these days. This break creates the highest level of energy during the whole event. (Time to pass out business cards!)
  • A panel discussion with the so-called experts, facilitated by someone who has no clue how to integrate the topic or challenge the panelists. (No clue…)
  • A lunch hour. (The highlight of the event!)
  • Back to the conference hall for more speeches! By this time half the audience has left because they have met all the people they wanted to meet. (The other half are probably sleepy after a heavy lunch.)
  • A lackluster tea, as participants have nothing to talk about anymore.
  • A final panel round… (by this point you have been there for what feels like an eternity.)
  • And to round it all off – “Thank You’s” for the sponsors and conference shields for the speakers, majority of whom have left, except for the few panelist who were placed in the concluding panel. (Lucky guys!)

Sounds familiar? I have yet to meet someone who has come back from such a conference with fresh ideas on how to improve their job or a newfound passion and motivation to move their organization forward.

What I don’t understand is, why organizers have not been able to come up with a better, more engaging and exciting format. A program that stimulates learning, sharing of experiences and engage people on topics that they care about.

I would love to hear your ideas on conference and/or workshop design elements that engage the audience.

– Paul Keijzer

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9 thoughts on “Death by Conference

  1. We, as a nation lacks out-of-the-box thinkers as we feel comfortable following the tradition with our blinkers on. Conferences has now been more of a marketing maneuver and have lost its true essence. Normally, we see presenter having no clue about the conference theme and audience just waits for the networking session…both parties seem to be happy with their own objectives! I myself avoid attending conferences, unless either it is important for me to attend or if I need a break from office work…that’s one of my objectives to attend the conference 🙂

    I am surely not an expert on this, but one of the things that might make the conference a bit exciting is to invite someone from the audience to be on the panel. This might allow audiences (at least a few) to keep their eyes and ears open throughout the session.

    Apart from conferences, keeping your participants engaged during a workshop (after lunch) is always challenging…I support healthy/light food!


  2. Great post Paul, thank you. We feel the same, there are many events in the HR fields that are true waste of time. This is exactly why we designed the Human Asset Summit – an event by practitioners for practitioners.

    Firstly, it’s unbiased as you don’t see sponsors flooding the event agenda (actually you don’t see any in the agenda…) Then there is the speaker panel, full of practitioners and subject matter experts, global thinkers. However adults learn the most by getting involved, hence the programme is also spiced with masterclasses and peer-led workshops. Yes, you will get on your feet and get involved.

    We certainly have coffee, lunch and cocktail dinner as well – just to enhance the networking. By the way, the coffee we serve is not the usual awful tasting and cheap conference ‘black-coloured-water-with-caffeine’ but true Italian freshly brewed cappuccino, latte, or espresso of your choice. Small thing, but matters when your brained is stretched over 3 days.

    It’s not mega large event, we shall have around 200-300 participants, however none are consultants or vendors, only leaders from the people management function. We are very careful whom we allow to register.

    So while I fully agree there are a lot of mediocre events out there, we’ve worked very hard to make Human Asset 2012 a true gem. Every details matters.

    With over 100 confirmed attendees already, we’re set to bring yet another great event with great value to everyone who’s keen on improving HCM Excellence.

  3. A good piece Paul and the call for new format make a whole lot of sense. Yet notice that for many “conference animals” they’re there purely for networking & meeting the players, not the conference speeches. So in a way, conferences are mainly hunting grounds so it doesn’t matter much what the format or contents be like so long as they can “hunt” for some game.
    🙂 Cheers

  4. The most embarrassing moment is when a senior passes a derogatory remark for a junior in his presence, in front of such a big crowd. This is highly unprofessional and unethical. You simply cannot insult someone just like that. People must realize this and respect colleagues.

  5. Thank you Paul for sharing. Totally agree and had an approving smile on my face, whilst reading your worthy made observations. Meeting people and establishing a follow up communication, is something I appreciate mostly, about being in conferences. The cost and time spent travelling to attend the conference sessions doesn’t pay off. However, when conference sessions are broken into activity driven workshops, with round table sessions with fewer people sharing together about best practices, thus enabling engagement of participants, this approach creates some broader windows of learning opportunities. Agree about the food to be light and the venue chosen with enough space to move around and providing opportunities for communication among participants during the break time. But sharing conferences materials, as you have chosen to do, is precious!

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