The business conference is back: now here’s how to make it better

The time-honoured corporate tradition is due for a radical reassessment.

By Bloomberg News, April 4 2022
The business conference is back: now here’s how to make it better

The pandemic has prompted a rethinking of many practices and routines of professional life, such as working from home, meetings and interviewing online. Now another such pastime is ripe for a reassessment: the face-to-face conference.

What do people actually want from their interactive experiences? The first insight from the pandemic era is that most formal presentations should simply be abolished. The sad reality is that hardly anyone is listening, or for that matter should be.

Instead, for better or worse, there is a near-infinite supply of Zoom calls. Zoom will not continue at its pandemic peak. But there are reasonably credentialed Zoom presentations just about every day, many of them open to the public.

I turn down almost all of these Zoom invitations. Too many of them embody presentations, and I prefer more interactive modes. Furthermore, I am too antsy and impatient. If I am going to go online for intellectual material, I much prefer YouTube, where I can stop the video whenever I want for a snack or exercise.

The next time you are attending a formal presentation at a conference, ask yourself these questions: Is this better than all of those Zoom calls I am turning down? Is this better than the next best YouTube clip I might be watching?

For most people, the answers are obvious. Conference organizers need to be willing to pull the trigger and usher the presentation into a gentle retirement.

Charismatic presentations still can be important to motivate a sales force or to build the unity of a crowd. But informational presentations are obsolete.

Earlier in my career, I went to presentations not to listen, but rather to meet the other people interested in the topic. That made sense at the time, but these days information technology provides superior alternatives.

For instance, I have been to conferences that have “speed dating” sessions (without the date part, to be clear, and with vaccine and testing requirements) where you meet many people for say two minutes and then move on to the next meeting.

This should become a more regular practice. Conference organizers also can create “speed dating pools” where everyone interested in a particular topic area has a chance to meet.

Another marvelous practice prompted by the pandemic that should be continued and indeed extended at all conferences: outside sessions, especially with group discussions.

Obviously this won’t work in all locales at all times of the year. Just put people outside and let them talk, making sure that table and group assignments keep them from clustering with their previous friends.

Looking back, it amazes me how many earlier conferences never considered outside time as a general, formalized practice. View the matter in historical, evolutionary terms.

Human beings, as they have evolved over the millennia, have spent an inordinate amount of time talking to each other outside. It should hardly come as a surprise that this is what we very often want to do. Conference organizers should pander to that demand.

Another pandemic lesson is that it is fine, thank you, to have fewer conferences. I know many people who were “conference-starved” during the pandemic and actually began to crave attendance at these strange events.

In turn, I have anecdotal evidence that conferences I have attended or organized recently have been far more popular than past such conferences. That suggests a higher level of appreciation and enthusiasm when conferences are scarce. Maybe that is a better world for everyone?

Finally, my personal pet peeve: most conferences, even exclusive ones, serve terrible food.

When I organize conferences, I hire Indian caterers to give the attendees something a little different and a little better – plus it’s cheaper and great for vegetarians.

I’m not saying every conference should serve Indian food. But if you’re going to the trouble of gathering everyone from afar, you might also consider serving them something more appetizing than rubber chicken.

This article is published under license from Bloomberg Media: the original article can be viewed here


11 Jul 2014

Total posts 974

What a mixed bag, some companies are doing face to face meetings and conferences other companies are using Zoom as a bargaining tool against suppliers. No interaction with the supplier just over Zoom so it all comes down to price, terms and bottom line. Hopefully those other customers don't get the idea as well or airline stocks will drop like a stone.


09 May 2020

Total posts 571

In my opinion (with nothing to back it up), if you do business in Asia without meeting in person, they will drop you like a stone when there is a better offer, without even bothering to give you notice or a chance to better the offer.

Sure you got contract signed etc, but try enforcing it in Asia. Particularly when getting stuff from Asia, the suppliers will go slow in shipping your product while they focus on the other deal, and by the time you notice a problem and start complaining they give you the usual excuse blaming it on shippers etc, and then when you want to withdraw or get your refund back, and they don’t try that hard to retain you, that is when you can be sure they are servicing a better deal.

And then you have to deal with screaming customers at your end who is going to use Australian law and feedback ratings to destroy your business. 

So people can Zoom as much as you want, the only loyalty on either side comes down to money and profit and not long term business relationship.

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