Conferences don't have to be boring!
Yesterday I attended an afternoon event called the Getting Shit Done Club organised by the great Colin Ellis. It was excellent. Five speakers, all very entertaining and informative, done at pace and no fluffy theoretical nonsense. It was well priced, well attended and just a few hours out of my week. And once they had covered the cost of putting the event on, any profit goes to a local charity. More importantly, it was fun and I feel energised!
It got me thinking. Why aren’t more conferences as fun as this?
I love professional development events but I have to admit I am very choosy about what I go to these days. I’ve spent too many hours at turgid conferences listening to turgid speakers talking about turgid subjects.
You know the sort. Those big industry conferences, usually run by professional event companies, who do it only to make money not to educate and inform. Sometimes they try to be all things to all people and cover every possible subject, or there is a conference “theme” and every speaker is supposed to be a variation on the theme. But some have little or no relevance to it and you are left thinking “what was that all about?” And then you come home with an ugly canvas conference bag full of shit from the conference sponsors you will never read or never use. A week later you have forgotten everything you heard.
I will admit to being a turgid speaker at turgid conferences myself in the past. Occasionally I’ve been approached about speaking by said big event companies and always amazed that they took no interest in the content I was delivering or offered me any advice about how they wanted it delivered. I just had to get my slides to them a week in advance.
And of course they don’t pay you either. You might get a free flight if you are lucky (I once turned down an opportunity when they expected me to fly to Auckland at my own cost), but otherwise all the preparation you do and travel time and accommodation is usually at your own or your employer’s expense. All for the “opportunity” to build your personal brand and get free admittance to the turgid conference. They play on your ego. And then the feedback kills you!
It’s how I imagine a one-night stand would be. You fret about your performance, feel empty and soulless afterwards and just want to get out of there as quickly as possible.
What I’ve found is that it is the smaller, privately organised events, where you get the best content and, if you are a speaker, the best support and advice. These are very few and far between unfortunately. Phil Tusing’s recruitment and resourcing events across Australia and New Zealand are the benchmark for that. They have integrity. And I love the concept of the Disrupt HR events that happen in various places around the world.
Conference presenting is tough. I’m not that good at it so there is no chance you are going to see “Keynote Speaker” on my social media bios. And don’t get me started on the rampant self-promoters who do that! You know a genuine keynote speaker when you see one. And most people are not that! Unfortunately, most people just aren’t very good presenters either which is why so many conferences are turgid.
So my advice is to be more choosy about what you go to. Look for smaller, privately run events. Anything over a day long or $1,000 in price? Consider giving it a wide berth.
There is one exception I will mention though. Probably the least turgid conference I have been to in recent years is the HR Innovation and Tech Fest. But I’m an innovation and HR tech nerd so it hits my sweet spot. But it’s also well organised, has great speakers and they’ve built a genuine community around the events they run in Australia and now, New Zealand. And I know they do a lot of research and preparation with HR professionals to get the content right as I’ve been part of that. It’s on in Auckland in July and Sydney in November so I recommend it if you want something different in the HR space and are just bored of the usual HR conference leadership/change/performance/benefits models and “how we changed our culture” type presentations.
Right, now to get some shit done!
Sadly, this morning I read on Twitter that Kandy Woodfield has passed away. Kandy was a fellow HR blogger from the UK. We never met but we interacted a bit online and I loved her blog posts, and she often promoted and supported mine. So this one's for Kandy.