On the Jupiter Research blog, Michael Gartenberg opined that “most conferences suck.” He said he goes to fewer and fewer conferences each year because “there’s so little to be gained as an attendee.”
My take: He is so right. Gartenberg didn’t elaborate on why there’s so little to be gained, however, so I’ll add my two cents:
CEOs don’t get to speak freely. Conferences like BAI’s Retail Delivery show have focused on pulling in top name financial services CEOs over the past few years. Unfortunately, many of these speeches are the worst ones. It’s not the fault of the CEOs. They’re like political candidates — they have to watch every word they say, so as not to offend anyone, and not to reveal any information that could be construed as revealing insider information. And all too often, they’re just giving speeches prepared for them by staff members because, let’s face it — they’re often not that close to the conference topic.
The next rung down are lousy presenters. Sorry to call like it is, but many people speaking at conferences are lousy presenters. There’s one that really sticks in my mind from a financial services conference I attended this year: A presentation by the SVP of Customer Experience at a large bank (please Lord, don’t let him read my blog). If it wasn’t bad enough that he was boring as hell, you’d think that a customer experience guy would know better than to use 8- and 9-point fonts on his slides.
You’ve got to pay to play. Translation: The people who get to speak are the vendors who sponsor the conference. I’ve been personally hit by this. Despite being recommended by other speakers to present at an upcoming financial services conference, the organizer said nope, I work for a vendor, I have to sponsor in order to speak. Never mind that I might actually provide value to their attendees, and was willing to pay my own way there. So what ends up happening — when you throw in point #2 — is what you get are not only shameless vendor pitches, but shameless pitches from lousy presenters.
Too many authors, not enough practitioners. It’s a consultainer’s world out there when it comes to conferences. Write a book, develop a canned speech, get a few speaking gigs. Don’t get me wrong — some are really good. But some — and I’m talking about some of the big authors here — aren’t that good. Conference attendees want something customized to their industry or the conference topic or them — which they often don’t get.
Too much talking at attendees, not enough talking with attendees. The way most conferences are setup, you’d think that the speakers are the only ones worth hearing. Sessions are 45 minutes long, the speaker takes up 40, and leaves 5 minutes for one or two people to ask a question. The first Law Of Conference Questions states that those questions will be the ones the rest of the attendees find the least interesting. The second law is the one that pertains to me when I present: I get the two questions I can’t answer very well.
What’s the solution? I haven’t been to a BarCamp yet, but it sounds like this might be a welcome relief from the plethora of no-value-added conferences out there today.