Conferences are an
inescapable part of life. They have many positive virtues - such as
air miles and a chance to polish your reputation in public.
But let's be honest, they can be irritating. Put on your
misspelt name badge and consider a few of the downsides - and then
you can suggest your own least favourite items on the agenda.
1. The bore from the floor: There is some cruel
law of physics that says the dullest, most pompous person in the
room is always quickest to the microphone. They've mastered the art
of talking without pausing so it's impossible to interrupt them.
They can use sentences so long that it's more or less a hostage
2. Hit-and-run ministerial speeches: A classic
conference opener is to find a junior minister to deliver the
keynote. It suggests the purr of power and a ministerial limousine
pulling up outside a hotel. Except it can be more like the Kwik-Fit
fitters of the conference world, in and out in rapid time. There
isn't a moment for questions - mainly because the minister doesn't
know anything about the subject - and then he or she is out the
door quicker than a human cannonball.
3. Does my ego look big in this?: There is
something in the conference water that makes people think they can
show off without any of the usual social constraints. They
self-refer, they self-congratulate, they self-inflate. The huge air
balloon of their ego has crushed everyone else in the hall. And the
ego warrior won't even have noticed.
4. The social media guy: This unfortunate
creature, on display on the conference stage, 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. And even more cruelly, he might have to wear something
interesting to show what a fun new media guy he is - like a shiny
waistcoat or an irritating pair of glasses. #iusedtohaveacareer
5. Novelty acts: Conferences have to work hard
to keep people interested, because they can suck the meaning out of
everything. How many times have we seen someone waving a pointer at
a slide saying something vacuous like "The future is agile"? A few
weeks ago conference organisers tried to liven things up by getting
actors to stage a fake
fight in an attempt to give people something to talk about.
6. Laptop tappers: Check out the audience at
the next conference and you'll see young people typing furiously
through all the speeches. They're not reporters or bloggers. But
they seem to be taking note of everything that's being said. It's
like some weird DIY transcription service. What are they doing?
7. Hotel institutionalisation: Even after a day
the symptoms are apparent. There's an unnatural dependency on the
free biscuits in the hotel room and a deep anxiety that they might
not be replaced. You've begun to try on the towelling flip-flops.
You're already looking forward to surfing the mid-morning
8. Why can't anyone ask a proper question?:
There are experts on a panel, but do we get to hear them challenged
about their ideas? Not a chance. When people in the audience get up
to speak, they may as well just shout out the name of their
employer or the title of their latest book. It's intellectual
product placement. Blokes with sandwich boards for golf sales are
more subtle in their sales technique.
9. If this is all feels meaningless, it might
be: A website
set up by science students in the US has been offering a random
research paper generator - and it records how many of these bits of
jargon and gibberish have been accepted for conferences. Among the
classics has been Harnessing Byzantine Fault Tolerance Using
Classical Theory. As well as reporting on how they "dogfooded" on
desktop machines this spoof research paper includes a graph with a
wavy line showing "Time since 1970."
10. PowerPoint - comedy's digital graveyard:
And finally, there's always that last slide, you know the funny one
to end the presentation, the one that says "I'm not just a fusty
old boffin, I can let my hair down with all the rest of the
good-time guys". There's a picture of a cat in a superhero costume
or a cartoon dragged off Google that you can't read properly. To
the audience, it's about as hilarious as the Black Death, but there
is no known deterrent to the Funny Last Slide
From the BBC website