Enough crappy conferences, already

I’m getting to a certain age and I think I’ve been to enough crappy conferences and events in this lifetime.

I am all for adventure and risking failure. But I’m also in favour of learning from experience.

So I’m not taking too many chances with future events that appear to fit my personal notion of crappy: ones that assume the audience are there to fawn at the feet of a select group of appointed experts.

Of course, I could just politely avoid them and not make a fuss. But where’s the fun in that?

I could be mistaken, but this looks like a case in point:The Conference for the Post-Bureaucratic Age.

Like so many of these events, the title excites and enthuses me. I would love to see us getting less bureaucratic as a society, and I see some signs of this happening. I would be happy to spend a day chatting to others who share my excitement, even if it’s misplaced.

And then I read the depressing detail, which really puts me off.

I don’t want to listen to a 30 minute lecture by David Cameron. I can download a Youtube of his stuff or read it online if I’m interested.

And let me take a wild stab in the dark here: I don’t suppose Cameron will stick around for the rest of the day to engage in impromptu conversation. Almost certainly he will conform to the mediocre standard for all leading politicians. Show up, say what a marvellous and important event this is… and then rush off. Tell me I’m wrong.

I don’t want to sit in claustrophobia while oversized panels of people every last one of whom appears to be at the top of at least one bureaucracy bore me to death.

I don’t want to listen to the chair doing the standard flattering introductions of the glitterati.

I don’t want to listen to the panellists waffling away.

I especially don’t want to wait for the few minutes of question time when the audience is instructed not to waste time by talking too long.

In a post-bureaucratic age, no one will run conferences focussed so obsessively on celebrity.

Perhaps the organisers are merely being highly ironic. But I doubt it.

So I hope they’ll forgive me for pleading a subsequent engagement. There is a patch of wet paint somewhere in London that I want to see drying.

8 thoughts on “Enough crappy conferences, already

  1. Johnnie Moore

    Well, you may be right of course. But I’m well up for it (just as well since I’m a panellist).

    My reasoning:

    1. not seen Cameron in the flesh and next chance might be with oppressive security measures

    2. got lots to learn

    3. plus some important things to say about personal data and how to fix government IT.

    3. Only going to speak for four minutes. So if I managed to bore you to death in that time I’ll deserve a special feature devoted to me in the Fortean Times

    To be honest, you do sound a bit miserable, prejudging this with words like “crappy” and “depressing”…wrongly labeling me as at the top of at least one bureaucracy…You’ve got conference fatigue! So maybe your decision not to come is the right one all round.


    Thanks all for comments.

    William OK it’s a fair cop, I was ranting and there are one or two people on the roster who aren’t at the top of a bureaucracy but I think my rhetorical point still stands. I am sure there will be things to learn at this event but that’s not enough to make me endure the status-consciouness of the setup.

    Panel sessions, in my experience, almost always suck however long panellists are allowed to perform for. I’ve tried setting time limits when hosting and it helps a bit, but the essential set up is still top down, raising a few select people above others.

    Look at your session: Seven panellists times 4 mins means half an hour used up by you all. Plus however long the speaker takes. Not to mention the chairman. That’s still a vast chunk of sitting still being talked at for the audience. I know that’s what people are used to and that’s fine for them. Me, I’ve just had it with that approach.

    The whole event has been structured centrally, the whole audience having to follow the themes in the ordained order. The agenda emphasises the rank of panellists over any notion of what provocative or interesting things they have to say.

    Yes, I may be doing them an injustice but I’ve been to too many events set up like this and they’ve almost all been a pain in the neck, for me anyway.

    But I hope you enjoy your 4 minutes in the limelight, not to mention your chance to enjoy the flesh of David Cameron.

  2. Phil Green

    Well said Johnnie. Gave up this stuff years ago. Stick with it, walk the talk. Go further. Now into challenging stuff don’t find optimal about unconferences. In some ways harder ’cause sometimes the people organising unconferences tend to think they’re the bees knees, that they’re the only ones who’ve experienced unconferences (and they can’t possibly exhibit any controlling or manipulative tendencies, can they?)

  3. Johnnie Moore

    Hi Phil, thanks. Have to laugh at myself reading your comment about the shadow side of unconference organisers. As ever, it’s important not to get fixated on a ritual if you want to have a lively event.

  4. Anne


    I agree with the idea that events are better when they’re more interactive, and death by panel is an all too frequent occurrence. However, even with that, I am sad to say that an upcoming event I am organising will indeed be a panel event.

    Why? The speakers themselves,whilst working in quite interesting and interactive areas (ie not ‘head of bureaucracy’ types) were completely not up for it. And there’s only so far you can push your speakers to do something they will not be comfortable with.

    I guess I’m just making the point that all the will in the world also needs reflecting by the delegates AND the speakers. Hey ho.

  5. Jon Husband

    In some ways harder ’cause sometimes the people organising unconferences tend to think they’re the bees knees, that they’re the only ones who’ve experienced unconferences (and they can’t possibly exhibit any controlling or manipulative tendencies, can they?)

    Appreciated this comment, and recognized in it an issue that was / is the subject of much reflection, self/talk and (hopefully) deep discipline whenever I have helped organize / facilitate Open Space / unconference.

    I see your glint of recognition too. I think there are nuanced but important philosophical / values differences between OS and unconferences, but maybe that’s just me.


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