Seven Things You Should Stop Doing At Your Conferences

I’ve attended more than my share of conferences this year both as speaker and as attendee. Here are seven conference things that annoy the heck out of me!

Image by Rafael Peñaloza.

1. Branded PowerPoint Templates For Speakers

Really, I mean really! We know the name of your conference. We know what your brand looks like. Do you want to bore us even further with your branded PowerPoint templates in every presentation? Your branded PPT is useless. It does not serve any objective except to make the audience throw-up in their mouth. Your branded PPT causes attendees to check-out before the speaker ever begins! Your branded PPT template decreases learning. Dump them!

2. Sponsors High Jacking Lunches And General Sessions

We are grateful that you secured a sponsor for the lunch or general session. We appreciate the sponsor. Really, I mean really, we do. Yet allowing some talking head from that organization to get up and talk at us for two or three minutes is painful. Their promotional videos usually backfire on the desired intent. You’re teaching us not to show up until 20 minutes – 45 minutes after the session starts so we don’t feel trapped by boring monologues.

3. Passing The Gavel To The Next Year’s Chair During A General Session

Are you kidding me? Do you really think we care who is the next chair? Do you think we really want to see you ceremoniously pass the gavel? Really, I mean really! We have better things to do with our time.

4. The Outgoing Chair’s Ego Monologue Of Everything They Accomplished

Don’t you, the conference organizers, the board and the chair know we can freakin’ read! Put their ego-logue in the annual report. Save the time during the session for more important things. The only people who care are the chair’s family and friends. Actually, they are just as relieved that the year is finally done and want it to end too. Stop this insanity now.

5. Parading Those Who Received Certifications That Year In Front Of Everyone

Are you that starved for important information or messaging to share during a general session? Wasn’t high-school and college graduations enough? Why do you think we want to see everyone that received their certification that year walk across a stage? There is absolutely nothing in that for us. Sure they are proud of their achievement. But really, I mean really!

6. Award Ceremonies During General Sessions

There’s a reason why not all of the Academy Awards are broadcast on TV. It’s because it takes too much time and they are boring. Unless you know the award recipients, you don’t care. So stop making every award recipient prance across the stage, accept their award and pause for a picture. It is utterly boring the heck out of your audience. We would rather hear fingernails on chalkboards. Put all the award winners in a short two-minute video and have them stand in the room for applause.

7. Panels Of White Men

It’s the 21st Century! Get a grip on reality. If all you can do is secure a panel of white men for the general session, then don’t do it. It just shows your insensitivity to diversity and today’s culture. Really, I mean really!

What irks you about today’s conferences? What would you add to my list?

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeff Hurt and Christina Stallings, Valentina Jaramillo. Valentina Jaramillo said: "@MsStallings: Seven Things You Should Stop Doing At Your Conferences <– #8 'Attend Them' :D" chan, jeje […]

  2. Traci Browne says:

    Jeff, I agree with you on the boring recognition portion of events. The ones I’ve seen are very poorly done…but I’m sure they all can’t be that bad…I hope.

    But I’d like to move it from a rant to actually coming up with some great ideas. People who work hard on an event or in your organization deserve recognition. I’ve seen many instances where people’s entire families have come to the luncheon or general session because they are so proud of what their loved ones accomplished. (And are the ones who suffered through the vast hours sunk into the event/organization often time as a volunteer.) I believe these people should be recognized and given their moment in the spotlight. There must be a way we can make it fun for everyone. I’ve seen some really great video picture montages professionally produced that give the recognition and make it entertaining to watch. This eliminates speakers going over their allotted time and the boring ones too.

    As to the two minutes to a sponsor…the problem there is a poor partnership on both ends. Both parties picking the low hanging fruit. They probably got their logo plastered to everything and for a few dollars more got to speak at the opening session. That’s not a sponsorship.

  3. Alli Gerkman says:

    Jeff, I agree with you on several counts, but a couple of comments:

    1. Awards ceremonies: If they are boring, I think it might be a function of the awards and how they are being awarded. When an award is truly an honor bestowed upon a person who has made a great contribution to the industry, I think attendees find the award ceremony and the story about the person to be inspiring (I know I certainly do). They walk away with a renewed passion to implement to the new things they have learned at the conference. But if it’s just a gimmick, then it’s probably boring.

    2. Passing the gavel: I like attendees to buy into a conference and feel engaged. If the passing of the gavel includes a call to action for attendees to get involved in some capacity, it can be very effective. But it certainly doesn’t have to take a whole lot of time.

  4. Great points, Jeff, but I think a big part of the problem is how these activities are presented, not whether or not they are presented.

    A host or emcee chosen for his or her on-stage abilities can do a much better job than someone chosen based on internal protocol.

    Even an Awards Ceremony or the passing of the gavel can be jazzed up by a charismatic emcee. Members should hear the accomplishments of the year, but shouldn’t be bored by them.

    Coaching the speaker to talk about what matters to the audience, instead of what matters to him, would be a great help.

    Thanks for raising these often painful topics. Perhaps it will help associations learn how to present them more favorably than not present them at all.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and responding. (I almost wrote thanks for playing. Ha! 😉 )

      You bring up a good point about someone’s family traveling to the event because their loved one is receiving an award. Here’s my question…Is the general session for the award winner and their family, or is the general session for the attendees that came to the event?

      In most cases a general session is not for the award recipient and their family. It is for the paying attendees. And usually most of the attendees do not personally know the recipient unless it is a small association.

      To give the award recipient their moment of fame, host a reception or party in their honor instead and let them invite their family and friends as well as association members. That’s a win-win for both the general session attendees and for the award recipient.

      Thanks for adding your feedback and insight.

      In my 20+ years of association work, I’ve rarely seen the award ceremonies done successfully for audiences. In one of my association roles, we struggled with this and ended up creating a separate awards ceremony followed by a party headlined by a major pop band. This was for an annual event of 20,000+ attendees. People that didn’t want to sit through the awards could just come to the party. Once we removed the awards from the general session, our audience responded favorable.

      As for the passing of the gavel, I personally think this should happen in a business meeting and not a general session. Not all association chairs or presidents are effective speakers and I’ve seen some very painful situations where the audience and the new chair both suffered through the passing of the gavel. If it is done one year, the next year the chairs feel entitled to do the same. General sessions are not about association chairs or CEOs. We have it backwards.

      Thanks for reading and writing.

      I agree a good emcee or host can help move things along. In the conference I mentioned to Alli, there was an emcee and he reminded me of the alcoholic uncle that a family rarely mentions. The organization chose the wrong guy to emcee their event and it just made matters worse. Association leadership needs to secure wise emcees that are quick on their feet and professionally appropriate.

  5. Other irksome things:
    1 – Panels that should just be multiple mini-keynotes.
    2 – Any keynote over 45 minutes, and actually over 35 minutes is sometimes pushing it
    3 – No interactivity or allowance for feedback from the audience. People want to speak and be heard.
    4 – REALLY HUGE or really tiny badges. Can’t we just be reasonable?
    5 – Sponsor tables set far away from the action of the event, and sponsors who don’t fit the attendee profile

  6. ‘@Jeff,

    Great list. I’d one that’s a little broader. Quit making the event about YOU and starting making each and every moment about me (attendee). Quit connecting me to YOU and enable me to connect with those “like me”.

    Talk about endearing me to your brand.

  7. Dave Will says:

    Really, Jeff? A good community is not made up of homeowner residents only. There are realtors, store owners, landscapes, dentists, etc… A good community has individuals with mutual respect for each other. That means its not all about you. Respect is required for a healthy environment. Respect for the people that are organizing the event, subsidizing the event, and of course for others that are attending. I get your points. There are some times when you’re struggling to find the value in something and that’s when you have to have a positive attitude and remember the manners you mother taught you.

    BTW, really missed being at Tech10. I’m sure I’ll see you at the next major event.

    Oh and since when does the age and skin color of a person determine their value?

    Happy Holidays!

  8. Agree on all points!! ESPECIALLY 1) branded powerpoints and b) award ceremonies. I would add to this list somehow making it possible to schedule sessions so they don’t all compete with each other. I know it’s probably not possible given the duration of an event if there are multiple sessions, but it’s hard to justify spending a huge amount of money and time to travel to a conference, only to have half the things you wanted to attend conflict with each other.

  9. To belabor your point a bit further:
    1) Branded Ppt: When you are forced to use this, why is it that they always have some image that sticks into the white part about 3″ and none of your text will then fit?

    2) Clip-art and pastel-based imagery to show people holding globes, glasses, binoculars, or megaphones: ENOUGH! It is time to stop the madness on using this type of imagery to “decorate” signage, powerpoint templates, program guide covers, etc. It makes me want to yell “Stop trying to look into the future already! Instead, CREATE THE FUTURE!!!” followed by “Stop being wishy-washy and COMMIT TO A SATURATED COLOR!!” Be definite. Be distinct. Be deliberate!

    3) Double-named badges. Can’t our ink be better used than having the badge that says “FIRST NAME” in big letters and then below it, “First Name Last Name”? How about using that space to actually inform people of something interesting about you? Perhaps what track you are in, what area of the industry, what you think of a particular topic, etc. etc. I think there is so much more you could do with badges. First name and company name is enough. If you really want to go further than that, chances are you are whipping out the biz cards or exchanging info via phone, etc.

    3) Awards: I agree with your points on awards, but here’s what gets me. Award ceremonies always seem to assume that we know who these people are, what they’ve done and why we should care. I think majority of them do an extraordinarily poor job of tying award ceremonies into the overall mission of the organization and telling the story for why these people are making a difference. Further, you never hear what it takes to get the award, who chooses, and the rationale. My last gripe: if there’s ever a time when social media & the web can help an organization out, then awards are it! NO ONE ever seems to have a web component to the awards and instead, only has the printed program! To another commenter’s point, unless you are an immediate family member, NO ONE reads/cares/keeps the award program-stop spending money on this and instead, offer a virtual wall or living recognition section of your organizations website for the winners along with samples, comments etc from the award winner so that it has context! Then people could actually post congratulatory notes, testimonials, etc and the award winner has a living repository ever after for their work and accomplishments. Gone are the days of winning once. With the world we now have, be recognized once, but maintain awareness forever. That would add a whole lot more value to the awards program and the organization overall.

    4) Spit out my coffee on the old, white men on the panel. Just please, if you are going to have this, please have them wear interesting socks or ties!!

    Thanks for great post!

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Great additions. Thanks for posting them. BTW, I don’t like most panels either. I rarely see them done right!

      Great broad addition: “Quit making the event about YOU and starting making each and every moment about me (attendee).”

      Did this post stir your soul Dave? I will say that your comment had me thinking…and I like that.

      I think there are plenty of ways to show respect to award winners and incoming chairs than by attending a general session to hear them speak. As for your comment about community, here’s an interesting thought – all of the community stakeholders you mentioned are there to provide services to home owners for a fee. If the homeowners were not there, those stakeholders would not exist. So it really comes back to being about the individual, the home onwer in your analogy. Without customers, those businesses would not survive.

      Thanks for reading and points. Yes, having multiple sessions that someone wants to attend at the same time is challenging. That can be a bummer.

      Love your list. Thanks for adding it!

  10. Luc Beaudoin says:

    I would add:
    No interactivty with the audience.It is boring to hear a monologue, specially when a speaker stays behind his lectern…
    Speakers: ask questions, make people think about what you’re saying, move on stage, go in the room, talk with people, answer questions as they come.
    Participants: just leave the room if the speaker is too boring and loves himself so much that he forgets about you, the participant !!!

    Luc Beaudoin
    Producteur vidéo et événementiel
    cell: 514.893.4953

  11. Joyce Paschall, CAE, CMP says:

    Ahhh, the still ubiquitous Panel of White Men…my biggest peeve, especially in the meetings/events industry. I can excuse it a little more readily within the general association field, and it may still be relatively appropriate in some professions, but not in an arena where it’s just SO unrepresentative of the audience. Unfortunately it is still fairly representative of the leadership positions, particularly on the hotel side.

    Thanks for including it on your list!

  12. Dave Will says:

    Can someone explain to me, and forgive my ignorance, why white men are so evil and corruptive to a panel? What characteristics could a white man have that would make him more desirable? or is it simply ans soley the color of the skin? Which then begs the question…

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      What could make a white man more desireable on a panel? I think that’s your question.

      I don’t think that those that select speakers think about what is more desireable on a panel. I think they go for the easy and quick selection. At least that’s what I’ve seen.

      I believe the issue is that a panel of all white men is not representative of most audiences, memberships or customers at conferences. That makes them undersirable. Until you’ve walked in the heels of another woman or the shoes of another minority, dealt with the issues they face and hit the glass ceiling, it’s hard to speak on their behalf. If it is a conference for all white men, a panel of white men makes sense.

      Ironic that in the events and meetings industry, 60%+ of meetings professionals are female yet rarely are their speakers representative of that audience. In the association industry, there are more female C-suite excutives than men. The more a conference only provides panels of anglo speakers–especially men, the more out of touch with reality they are about the diversity of population.

      At least that’s my opinion on the issue.

  13. Award ceremonies can be ‘spiced’ up when the finalist have to pitch in the first part of the program, let the delegates have a vote too. At the end of the program, you present the overall winner.

    Panels of White men: I agree completely: the more different the more ‘fire’! Men, women, young, old.

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