Why Are Most Corporate Conference A Waste of Time

One definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result

The answer to the question in the title (above) is simple and yet just about every company conference organising group repeats the same mistake every single year and every single time:  Virtually NO speaker rehearsal.

‘Hey…just a mo !’

“Hold on”, you may be saying, “when we ask for feedback on our conferences everybody says they are great!!” Well of course they tell you that. It is well known in the restaurant trade that the biggest lie told by customers is their answer to the question: ‘Did you enjoy your meal?’.
Most of us lie at this point because we don’t want to get into any hassles or arguments- we’re too nice. The fact is once we’ve departed from a restaurant that gave us crappy service we subsequently vote with our feet and never go back.
In the case of company conferences they (the delegates) don’t want to upset you and they don’t want their name linked to ‘being negative’ if your after-conference-report (derived from the ‘smile-sheets’, left on the chairs at the end), goes up to the bosses.
Mystery Delegate
Next time that you organise a conference, take a moment, sometime mid-morning, to slip away and stand at the back. And instead of congratulating yourself on the wonderful lighting, the amplification and the ‘stage-set’, look at the audience. How many are texting in ‘silent’ mode? How many are whispering to their neighbours? How many doodling on their pads? Playing tic-tac-toe? fiddling with their peppermints? asleep?
This isn’t a punishable offence (you having flown them out to this expensive exotic location) actually this is all your fault. Because you should have rehearsed every single speaker.
What a drag it is
We all need practice (and feedback) in just about every field of endeavour  Rehearsal is a bind… a real pain in the arse BUT first (from the speaker POV) it gets rid of 75% of their nerves !!! and second (from your POV) it gives you a chance to see the slides and other parafinalia they intend to use. You don’t need a diploma in audience psychology or stage-direction to do this. You know when something is being delivered in a wooden monotone with vast complicated bullet-point slides. Tell the presenter during the rehearsal what you liked about the intended presentation (very important- there must be something??!!) then what didn’t work so well that needs changing [or eliminating].
What should be in each presentation I’ll cover next time.

The Great Big Conference Con Game

The objective of this blog is to stop you wasting your time and money.

All business conferences can be a really profitable use of your time and money

Most business conferences are a total waste of your time and money.
Blimey he’s old
I have been in business for 40 years and in that time I’ve attended at least 180 conferences everywhere in the World. They generally cost hundreds of thousands of Dollars or Pounds to set up and put on.
The organisers tell you it is all about the staging and the lighting and the sound systems. Well they would wouldn’t they? That’s how they make their money.
The truth is that within 3 minutes of the first speaker (CEO, MD, President, Chairman, ‘Burt-from-Accounts’ or Gordon-from-The-Cabinet-Office ) stepping (tripping?) on to the (very expensive) platform, doing the whole, “Err good morning…bomp! bomp! Umm…is this thing working?”, [unnatural hand gesture]  thing,  95% of the audience has already stopped listening.
Defending the Caveman
You see, when it comes to successful human communication it isn’t the set, the lights, the sound and all the ‘rah rah’ that actually motivates, inspires and informs. [Think about the last time YOU attended a conference as a delegate. How soon did your mind start to wander? …Exactly! and 95% of the audience were the same as you.]
The fact is our ancient, anthropological, brains haven’t moved on much in the last ten thousand years and none of the technology actually influences the human-audience brain very much at all. The process of communication is much more animalistic. And women are five times more sensitive to the process than men are. [Ask any woman how rapidly she assesses the potential ‘alpha-male’, qualities of a strange man who has just entered the room? The usual answer is ‘instantaneously’] So something else is going on which we need to know about
With my own business (Bob Etherington Group Ltd) I often get to facilitate at conferences ( This means I’m the man who does the warm-up, introduces the different speakers and delivers a keynote or two.)
The darkest hour
As these conferences often run over two days, I always get the ‘graveyard’ warm-up slot at the beginning of ‘Day 2’. And, because it is very revealing, I usually ask the audience the same questions. I say, ” Good morning ladies and gentlemen. How are you feeling?….[ “Great!”LOL] Did you have a good day yesterday? [“Yesss” ]….”Please raise your hands if any of you recall that somebody stood up here and made a 30 minute speech at this same time yesterday morning?” [Half the hands go up] ” Could any one of you stand up and give me a 30 second precis of that presentation?” [No hands go up] “Do any of you recall the subject of the presentation?” [No hands go up] “Do any of you recall the name of the speaker?” [ No hands go up]….That is the impact that 90% of conferences have on 95% of delegates; a big fat ‘Zero’.
It is such a common dilemma, that there is a standing joke amongst all conference organisers> Q: ” What is the objective of most conference attendees? A:”To get out of the room”….Q: “And what is the objective of most conference presenters?” A: “To get out of the room”.
But it should NOT be like this. Pay attention to the basics of successful human communication [Body Language, Voice Tone and Content in THAT ORDER] and INSIST on rehearsals for all and you will magically turn your waste of time and money into a big accolade for Yourself!
More on all this very shortly

Death By Power Point

Microsoft “PowerPoint” is like a loaded AK47: very dangerous in untrained hands !

Yeah right !!…Actually, PowerPoint can be a marvelous and versatile weapon for an experienced communicator. But your ‘PowerPoint’ slides are NOT your presentation:
YOU are your presentation. And all the whizzy visual technology inside PowerPoint is usually either ignored in favour of mindless and useless ‘bullet points’ or overused leading to instant audience ‘switch-off’.
However great you think your slide show is the audience will actually be picking up more in the way of communication clues from your body language and your voice tone than from any slide show. I will talk more about Body Language and Voice Tone in my next ‘post’.