One of the “features” of being in a job is that you get invited to conferences and “industry events”. I’ve written extensively about one of them in the past – the primary purpose of these events is for people to be able to sell their companies’ products, their services and even themselves (job-hunting) to other attendees.
Now, everyone knows that this is the purpose of these events, but it is one of those things that is hard to admit. “I’m going to this hotel to get pitched to by 20 vendors” is not usually a good enough reason to bunk work. So there is always a “front” – an agenda that makes it seemingly worthy for people to attend these events.
The most common one is to have talks. This can help attract people at two levels. There are some people who won’t attend talks unless they have also been asked to talk, and so they get invited to talk. And then there are others who are happy to just attend and try to get “gyaan”, and they get invited as the audience. The other side of the market soon appears, paying generous dollars to hold the event at a nice venue, and to be able to sell to all the speakers and the audience.
Similarly, you have panel discussions. Organisers in general think this is one level better than talks – instead of the audience being bored by ONE person for half an hour, they are bored by about 4-5 people (and one moderator) for an hour. Again there is the hierarchy here – some people won’t want to attend unless they have been put on the panel. And who gets to be on the panel is a function of how desperate one or more sponsors is to sell to the potential panelists.
The one thing most of these events get right is to have sufficient lunch and tea breaks for people to talk to each other. Then again, these are brilliant times for sponsors to be able to sell their wares to the attendees. And it has the positive externality that people can meet and “network” and talk among themselves – which is the best value you can get out of an event like this one.
However, there is one kind of event that I’ve attended a few times, but I can’t understand how they work. This is the “round table”. It is basically a closed room discussion with a large number of invited “panellists”, where everyone just talks past each other.
Now, at one level I understand this – this is a good way to get a large number of people to sell to without necessarily putting a hierarchy in terms of “speakers” / “panellists” and “audience”. The problem is that what they do with these people is beyond my imagination.
I’ve attended two of these events – one online and one offline. The format is the same. There is a moderator who goes around the table (not necessarily in any particular order), with one question to each participant (the better moderators would have prepared well for this). And then the participant gives a long-winded answer to that question, and the answer is not necessarily addressed at any of the other participants.
The average length of each answer and the number of participants means that each participant gets to speak exactly once. And then it is over.
The online version of this was the most underwhelming event I ever attended – I didn’t remember anything from what anyone spoke, and assumed that the feeling was mutual. I didn’t even bother checking out these people on LinkedIn after the event was over.
The offline version I attended was better in the way that at least we could get to talk to each other after the event. But the event itself was rather boring – I’m pretty sure I bored everyone with my monologue when it was my turn, and I don’t remember anything that anyone else said in this event. The funny thing was – the event wasn’t recorded, and there was hardly anyone from the organising team at the discussion. There existed just no point of all of us talking for so long. It was like people who organise Satyanarayana Poojes to get an excuse to have a party at home.
I’m wondering how this kind of event can be structured better. I fully appreciate the sponsors and their need to sell to the lot of us. And I fully appreciate that it gives them more bang for the buck to have 20 people of roughly equal standing to sell to – with talks or panels, the “potential high value customers” can be fewer.
However – wouldn’t it be far more profitable to them to be able to spend more time actually talking to the lot of us and selling, rather than getting all of us to waste time talking nonsense to each other? Like – maybe just a party or a “lunch” would be better?
Then again – if you want people to travel inter-city to attend this, a party is not a good enough excuse for people to get their employers to sponsor their time and travel. And so something inane like the “round table” has to be invented.
PS: There is this school of thought that temperatures in offices and events are set at a level that is comfortable for men but not for women. After one recent conference I attended I have a theory on why this is the case. It is because of what is “acceptable formal wear” for men and women.
Western formal wear for men is mostly the suit, which means dressing up in lots of layers, and maybe even constraining your neck with a tie. And when you are wearing so many clothes, the environment better be cool else you’ll be sweating.
For women, however, formal wear need not be so constraining – it is perfectly acceptable to wear sleeveless tops, or dresses, for formal events. And the temperatures required to “air” the suit-wearers can be too cold for women.
At a recent conference I was wearing a thin cotton shirt and could thus empathise with the women.