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Top 10 Conference Cock-ups

September 3, 2013

After 20 years of supporting conferences, we’ve heard some tales that will send shivers up a conference organiser’s spine. Here are a few we can share – there are several more that we can’t.

conference organisers

Don't be left red faced at your own conference - Take note of the mistakes made by others, below, and avoid embarrassment.

1. Theme
If an event has the word ‘annual’ in the title there’s a high chance it shouldn’t be happening at all. The title of an event should answer the question, ‘why are we doing this?’. If it’s not solving a specific problem and helping the audience then the effort, time and expense is waste.

2. Food
Poisoning at worst, cold when it should be warm at best. More often than not conference food is heavy, uninspiring and unlabelled so that those with selective diets can’t select and are bound to complain. Food, above all else, will determine the success of your event – unsurprising when you realise your typical delegate has had on average 40,000 other meals to compare this to in his lifetime.

3. Technology
Projector bulbs blow without warning, batteries go flat and sound systems howl when microphones are handled carelessly. At a presentation using a live search in YouTube, an obscure ‘adult’ search result appeared at the bottom of the screen. The presenter, whose focus was on the top three results failed to notice this, unlike his audience.

4. Hangovers
Two day conferences are all very well but if care isn’t taken to manage the partying during the intervening night, then the morning of day two can be an uphill battle. On one occasion the MD of a well-known retail group had to retire back to bed mid-morning leaving his top 50 managers to fend for themselves.

5. Skiving
While beach side hotels and ski resorts will draw the crowds, it’s expecting a lot for an audience to stick with the programme when temptation lies just outside.

6. Weak Crew
A strong crew goes unnoticed, unlike the sound technician who chose to play uncensored rap music at an award ceremony.

7. Illegible slides
It’s incredible how few highly paid executives have grasped that a slide is for the audience, not a substitute to their notes. Any presenter uttering the words, ‘I know you can’t read this slide’ should be booed off stage. Watching this hilarious clip from a previous blog should be compulsory viewing for every conference speaker: Click here.

8. Boring presenters
I’ve never heard a delegate complain about a speech being too short. Sadly few CEO’s have honest colleagues who can tell them to wrap it up, consequently most leaders go on for too long. Agree the time slot at the outset and use signals to let speakers know they have 5, 2, 1 and 0 minutes left. Most faults can be found by simply videoing the speaker, smart phones make this easy and this alongside a dress rehearsal the day before will vastly improve your event.

9. Fire
The November gala dinner with bonfire dessert platters festooned with lit sparklers looked incredible, the effect went a step further when a dozen firemen stormed the building.

10. Sleep
Listening to one speaker for more than 15 minutes, especially after food is as soporific as whale music. Especially if the audience is seated in rows rather than at round tables. Movement is the best cure.

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