Consumed by conferences

consumed-by-conferencesThey’re everywhere! They are an ongoing malaise sweeping the planet and as good a reason as anyone has ever thought of for an employee to get away, see new places, meet friends and colleagues in business, sneak the wife in for a bit of a vacation and have the company pick up the tab. How sweet it is!

But we are going on business, to learn, explore new vistas, engage for exciting opportunities, see what’s new in the industry, listen to knowledgeable speakers, and then go to parties that the organizers smiling call “networking opportunities.” It sounds so semi-professional and mine is not an indictment of the process since, after all, I am called upon to speak at most of them. Hopefully, I am able to pass along some pearls of wisdom, innovative ideas, respond more than adequately and educationally to questions posed and cram decades of experience into the 15-20 minutes, sometimes a tad more, allotted to me. Other speakers suffer the same fate and the attendees wonder where the time went and what they actually learned.

One good idea that someone can take home with them is worth the trip, any trip.

But, instead of traversing the conference to learn, they are like a tiger on the prowl, seeking out the free drinks, carry-bags, squeeze toys, bags, t-shirts, hoodies, dolls for the kids, yo-yos, key chains, bag tags and enough other paraphernalia to open a Dollar Store in the morning. Those conference books they hand out? Does anyone believe – again, for the most part – that they are read, or the other reading material that is eventually left in the hotel room before checking out? The books are brought home and put on the shelves of an office to impress visitors when meetings are called for.

Wow, what an indictment!!

Nah, just years of observation. Applicable to everyone coming into the conference, whichever one it is? Of course not. Most? Yes. Networking is a wine and beer tasting contest. Meetings on the conference floor are between old friends, clients and providers, necessary to justify attendance. Others are to make introductions, strike deals, set frameworks of interest in place, explain needs and listen to solutions you did not know existed. But, the week of February 3rd to the 9th has three conferences of varying size in place in London – C-5, ICE, LAC (iGaming) and that part was smart to tie one’s efforts to ICE by the other two. One trip, see and attend all three.

Speakers are asked to condense a lifetime of experience, ups and downs, new thoughts, lessons learned from the past, visions of the future in the magnanimous time frame of 15 minutes, as mentioned early on. Neither David Copperfield nor Mandrake the Magician could do this. Attendees have to seek out speakers and entice them into a coffee, lunch or dinner and draw out all the free advice they can, like a tube in their brains that just drains as much as possible. No questions during the session since no one wants to share the answers – how droll can one be? How frighteningly silly. Anything good, great, with a future, goes up on the Internet and is there for the world to see in seconds as the nature of it, the fact that it is there, is akin to a California wild fire. Cornering the speaker at the session is not easy, given the competition to do so.

Afraid to ask a question that the audience will think to be stupid is, frankly, stupid in and of itself. Stop! You expected me to be less than candid right here. Not asking the question is stupid and wondering, for the length of the conference, what the answer might have been is not the smartest thing you will have done this week.

Come to learn, come to make contacts, come to ask questions that have been puzzling you, come to improve your product(s) – whatever they are, come to expand your efforts…to strike up new relationships…to understand that the industry does not rise or fall when your particular sun comes out…to learn since you are not the sharpest card in the deck. Come to innovate, create, develop, improve upon, eliminate the out of touch, add the look and feel of the future, and weigh your technology against that of most of the industry. Find those that do whatever sets the tone and pace of the industry. Imitate with a purpose and alter a bit, improve upon.

Instead of waging war – think acquisitions, mergers, partnerships, increasing or decreasing staff to meet plans and schedules, re-evaluating, be truthful to yourself and not delusional. Determine whether you are fighting a losing battle, or one destined to win its share of battles.

Read that conference book, take notes, ask questions, stop playing solitaire, poker, candy crunch and blackjack when at a session that your boss told you to attend…or any other.

Three conferences back to back, one playing off the other and ICE attracting the audience for the other two. Nice move and one set of expenses for attendees, albeit, a bit expanded. Then, of course, there is Las Vegas, Barcelona, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Macau and a world map of others. We are drowning in conferences and many address the same, or similar topics. Good speakers, the same ones, at multiple conferences, are fine and are welcomed because they belong there – they really know and can address multiple topics. Others invited just to have a new face or because they became a paying sponsor, or have a stand presence does not qualify them to be up at the rostrum. Hardly.

All that frequent flyer mileage might not be making you smarter and is, in fact, taking you away from the office. Can you juggle it all? Sure. You just have to plan, be selective, make certain you learn, be determined to employ that which makes sense and come to advance yourself and your company, not to collect trinkets from the different stands or increase your pen selection ten-fold.

Yes, I speak at many conferences, make time to do so, try my best to impart whatever wisdom I can, cut to the chase in the most candid manner you will ever encounter and challenge what I think is, on the face of it, blatant nonsense. I am not there to placate, cast idle and undeserved accolades nor come in, speak and head out. No applause necessary. I do what I think should be done. Now, you must do the same. Come to these conferences, one or all three of them, and come with a purpose, a pre-determined plan of what you expect to garner, played off whatever lured you in the brochure – topic, speakers, stands and companies that occupy them, meetings that are both with friends an advancement of your firm’s purpose.

The squeeze balls and luggage tags are fine, hoodies are usually first quality and you will never need for pens. But, all that aside, come to learn, to engage, to share thoughts and opinions, to implement. Now, get out there and get me some candy bars!!!

And as MailChimp says, “And if you ever meet a subscriber who prefers using AOL Explorer, learn more. Maybe they were frozen in ice or something.”

Mickey Charles. If you wish to submit your own editorial please contact Bill Beatty.