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Conference etiquette

September 16, 2017

I’ve just finished attending a 2-day conference and half-day workshop. I’ve attended plenty of both, but some things happened at this one that made me just a little bit angry because I felt I didn’t get what was promised. These things irk me at ALL conferences, not just this one, so I’m not picking on the one I just attended. Most are to do with attendees, but a couple apply to the presenters or conference organisers. So if you’re attending a conference in the near future, take note.

Workshops

It’s a while since I taught a hands-on computer software class, but I really felt for the presenter when the questions started coming and she was running around like a blue-arsed fly trying to sort out people’s issues because they:

  • didn’t download the program beforehand, or tried to download it the night before the workshop but failed and were now trying to do so on a shared but limited Wifi connection in the convention centre AFTER the class had started (the info on downloading the software had been on the conf website and in the confirmation email for months)
  • didn’t follow the presenter’s emailed instructions (with attached class files) and load the files onto their laptop, as requested, meaning the presenter had to run around with her thumb drive to help those people
  • saw that their Mac screen was different to the Windows screen of the presenter and despite having a complete set of instructions WITH CORRECT MENU PATHS and screenshots for a Mac, continued to ask how to do it on a Mac
  • didn’t know how to resize a window, or a pane within a window, or sort a database column, move column headers etc.
  • asked about things the presenter had just given CLEAR INSTRUCTIONS (with a demonstration) for
  • turned up late (some were in a late-finishing morning workshop, and the conference organisers had only allowed 30 minutes for lunch — unfortunately, there was only one place close by for lunch, and they had to wait for their orders to get filled and to eat their lunch); the result was that the presenter waited nearly 10 minutes for them to arrive, thus penalising those of us who’d turned up on time.

The presenter wasn’t a quick talker, so there’s no reason why some people seemed to get left behind. I didn’t hear any needless chatter from where I was sitting, so I’m wondering if some people just don’t listen or read, despite them all working in the field of clear communication.

On a side note, questions like some of those above, plus some late arrivals, meant that it took about 20 minutes of the 4 hours before the presenter could really get started. That’s a real red flag to me — I’ve paid good money to get a 4-hour workshop and to find that effectively it’s 3.5 hours, less another half hour break for afternoon tea (not announced in the program), so effectively 3 hours, doesn’t sit well with me.

For workshop organisers

  • Allow enough time between workshops for lunch, especially where there’s only one lunch venue for the whole convention centre, and many will be trying to get their lunch at the same time. Or get lunch catered for and add it into the workshop fee.
  • Arrange for enough power outlets for any hands-on computer software training! All participants in my workshop got an email from the organisers two days beforehand telling us there’d be no power in the room and to make sure out laptops were fully charged!! During my email exchange with the organisers I was told this was a ‘safety’ issue. Really? In a convention centre that hosts hundreds of events each year? Fortunately there WERE some power points around the room, so those who needed them were able to charge their laptops. Despite mine being a recent laptop with specs indicating an 8-hour charge (I think), I was down to 65% after 2 hours. Anyone with an older laptop might have been struggling.

Conference organisers

These suggestions are for conference organisers and the people who introduce the speaker(s) to the audience. In the conference I attended last week, all sessions were 45 minutes, which included a mandatory 10-minute question time, so effectively 35 minutes. There was NO break between one session ending and the next one starting — with sessions running simultaneously in three rooms, that meant running from one room to the next.

  • Allow sufficient time for attendees to move from one room to another — 5 minutes as a minimum, but preferably 10 minutes. This also allows the next speaker time to get to the room, set up, and do any final prep for their session — and to breathe…
  • Do NOT let those introducing the speaker repeat the biographical info that’s already in the printed program, on the website, and in the conference app. We can read. It’s a waste of time for everyone concerned, especially for a tight session.

Presenters

  • Do NOT repeat all the biographical info that’s in the program, website, and app, or on the THREE slides you have that describe your history from childhood. In one of the sessions I attended, by the time the person doing the intro had given a potted bio, then the two presenters had each given their bios, we were nearly 15 minutes into the session, leaving effectively 20 mins to present the information.
  • And while on bios, I don’t want to hear “I really loved reading as a child” unless for some reason your topic is on childhood reading issues! Any bio info must be recent, preferably summarising only things related to the work you’re doing now and nothing older than 10 years. Before that, no-one cares!!!
  • Speak up if there’s no microphone — those at the back WILL strain to hear you. If there’s a microphone, speak into it. If there’s a hand microphone, learn to use it so that it doesn’t end up well away from your mouth and no-one can hear you.
  • When you get a question from the audience, REPEAT THE DAMNED QUESTION into the microphone. One, it shows that you heard/interpreted the question correctly; two, those sitting at the back can’t hear any question a person facing you has asked.
  • Start on time. Do NOT reward latecomers by starting late.
  • Finish on time or even beforehand, especially if there’s no break between sessions. Often there’s a session straight after yours and the next person needs time to get set up.
  • Pack up your stuff and get it out of the way of the next presenter ASAP. If there’s time between sessions and some people still want to ask you questions personally, move aside, or take the discussion outside into the corridor.

I’m sure there are more, but these are the ones I identified at this conference.

Rant over.

One comment

  1. Rhonda, please know that the no-nonsense post mortem on this conference is the very reason I look forward to reading your regular blogs. Your professionalism is very much appreciated.



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