What if Conferences Were Conducted Like Business Meetings?

Events that Work, Inspire Action

For the past few years, I have attended a fair amount of conferences in Kigali; some I attended because I liked the topic to be discussed, others because I had work-related interests.

But I have to say that most of these conferences were boring.

No need to take my word for it, checking for yourself is much easier. I am sure tomorrow (as you read this) there is going to be a conference somewhere in one of our hotels. But that’s not the point. Conferences are boring, in my opinion, mostly because of their boring traditional setup: people seat and listen to what the higher ranking in the field has to say. This goes like: (1) Opening remarks by the CEO, (2) Presentations by [insert name and title], (3) Address by [insert name and title], (4) Tea break (perhaps my favourite of all, (5) Panel discussion, etc.

Opening remarks would be insightful only if the CEO was as creative and collaborative as a TV show host. Ever wonder why the opening monologues of big events such as the Oscars are not done by members of the Academy themselves?

Let’s skip the ‘Presentation’ part because it irks me that no one ever has time to follow up for corroboration (Too much made-up data to bear); and the ‘Address’ which will come in when everyone in the room wants to go for the break.

And then there is the panel discussion, which, I have realised, we all love. But I am always amazed by how panelists respond like they know everything. I have never seen a panelist who says something like, “I don’t know, I will have to check and get back to you.” In most cases, when it is a difficult question, they prefer to struggle to make sense or simply choose to lie.

The panelists seat and throw all sorts of ideas, but what bugs me the most is the amount of time lost beating around the bush, pointing out the problem. And that is where I ask myself: What if this was a business meeting? I am pretty sure the CEO, by then, would be asking, “I want to hear some answers, we all know the problem.”

As a matter of fact, the topic of the day is the problem, I would so much appreciate seeing panelists who go straight to the point, suggest practical solutions, put forward a well-studied action plan and layout what it would take to execute it. Like that we would be leaving the conference with a call to action and one thing in mind: for everyone to go and work on the tasks to which they either have been appointed to or those ones they think fall in their line of mission.

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