I spoke too soon

Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

So yesterday I smugly say that conferences where we have to sit and endure powerpoint are “exactly the kind of event I would avoid these days.”

And yet barely 3 hours later, I saunter into Six Apart’s evening blogging conference here in London… for a good 2 hours of being presented to.

Alistair Shrimpton had found some interesting speakers especially John Dale of Warwick University, talking about WarwickBlogs, a project to get everyone there blogging together.

But oh how I hate this default conference format where I get to sit and listen to talk after talk.

And let’s not kid ourselves that a Q and A session is a satisfactory nod towards interaction. I hate Q and A sessions. Here we have a room of maybe 100 smart people and the only way we can interact is to ask a question.

After sitting impatiently for so long, I decide to ask a question. But I realise now that I’m asking less out of curiosity than out of a desperate urge to do something other than just sit still. I wonder if that dynamic lies behind other questions.

And what is the likelihood that one person’s question is going to interest many other people in the room? Of course, after enduring a boring question the urge to stick a hand up and do something myself only grows. So here we have an ingenious form of group torture where each additional question simply adds to the frustration of sitting trapped by a format that sucks.

Is that clear? Q and A sessions make boring conferences even more boring.

How bizarre to assemble a group of bloggers and use the meeting equivalent of a blog with no RSS, no comments and no trackbacks.

I choose to sit at the back knowing I will be fidgety… the trouble is that that’s where the caterers are lovingly preparing the wine for afterwards. So there I sit, my attention increasingly drifting to the prospect of alcohol whilst the Q and As drone on.

(A friend of mine (I shan’t name him here) had a great idea for a question to ask the lawyer who was last up. He didn’t ask it but it would have been great: “Is there a legal reason why I don’t have a glass of wine in my hand right now?” And Lloyd‘s comment last night shows we were not alone in our frustration.)

Finally, Alistair mercifully releases us from this torment, the drinks and eats are served and what happens? Immediately, a flurry of animated, energetic conversations spring up all over the room.

It turns out that the audience, like the speakers, is made of up of bright, enthusiastic people who want to share ideas and enthusiasms. Why make us wait so long to do so?

(It’s not as if the speakers really enjoy this format either. And no disrespect to them is intended here.)

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are plenty of simple ways to let groups like this self-organise. Good grief, just look at how instantly we did it once the handcuffs were off.

UPDATE: Other coverage of the event is much kinder, including a very thorough report by Suw Charman; positive vibes from minkmedia; Luke Razzell. Connected Blog says “Well, what an interesting night! This was quite easily the most interesting conference Connected has ever been to.” (All spotted by Luke) So maybe I am just being a grumpy git today…

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