Industry conferences need disruption but it is hard work

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I am not a regular conference goer, but have visited a few tech and advertising industry related conferences. I have also participated in a few as a speaker or panelist. Both as a visitor and as presenter I have left most conferences wishing they were executed better. My grouses:

– most of them are run along predictable lines; truly value-adding conference sessions are few and far between. Most conferences claim to be knowledge disseminators or catalyst for inspiration and I am sure some deliver on these counts. But such conferences are exceptions rather than the norm. I am told that the annual Kyoorius Design Yatra is a good example of a well run conference. The WPP Stream (dubbed ‘unconference) has also received great reviews from participants both on content and execution.

– poorly crafted presentations. I realise that most conference speakers have a routine and cannot be expected to make bespoke presentations every time. They have ‘decks’ which they recycle for a bit – no issues with that. But things like 15 bullet points in a slide which is meant to be read from 50 ft away, meandering aimlessly, listless or uninspiring presentations, stating the obvious, making sales spiels (even when told not to) are all too common.

I am guilty of some of these too (hopefully not all!) whenever I have participated as a presenter or panelist.

Fixing the conference circuit is a tough ask because it is a lot of hard work. Ideally, all the presentations should be received well in advance and someone competent should screen them. But when senior speakers are involved it is impossible to suggest any modifications – lest they take offence. Time management is another element which contributes to disappointing conferences. Panel discussions and presentations go well beyond their scheduled time and everyone rushes through their stuff later. Sometimes the panel discussions remind me of our TV channel discussions – rambling, pointless and ending without any concrete conclusions or pointers to take home.

In my view, many conferences goers see it as an opportunity to network rather than a platform for learning. The presenters see it as a platform for furthering their personal brand. For event organisers, conferences must be big business and make economic sense. So no surprises or harm in viewing them as purely networking events with a profit motive. No, I am not painting all conferences with the same brush. I am sure there are a few events which are truly enriching. I just wish there were more.

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