I went to a couple of conventions this year (Verb-o-Rama and Paragraph World) and came home from both thinking that we have improved many aspects of the business world over the years – but conventions aren’t one of them.

Conventions and conferences have changed remarkably little over the years when you consider that their greatest leap forward was when speakers dumped camera-generated slides that sometimes didn’t work for computer-generated slides that sometimes didn’t work. Why do we need to improve conventions? Let me count the ways:

  • 1. Conventions are mind numbing in their unoriginality. They all have the same lofty-sounding themes. If you combined the name of every conference over the past year, you could capture all their themes in one: Level Playing Fields at the Next Level: Strategic Visions for Leveraging Success for World Class Results By Raising the Bar for Excellence, Challenging the Future Horizons Ahead of the Curve 2006. I want to attend a convention with the theme: ‘Full Frontal Accounting.’

"I want to attend a convention with the theme: ‘Full Frontal Accounting’"

  • 2. Name tags are stupid. You are given one in your registration pack and told you must wear it to all of the sessions, as if criminals are lurking in the hallways looking to crash that session on ‘The New World of Debentures’. (They’ll never make a movie titled, The Plenary Session Crashers.)

3. The keynote speakers, usually the president of the trade group or association, always start their keynote address the same way: “Is the microphone on?” Every speech ends with “thank you,” even though it would be much more interesting and invigorating to end a speech with, “and so I say, ladies and gentlemen, run for your lives!”

4. The exhibit hall. Exhibit halls were the first practical application of speed dating. In the time it takes you to stroll by a booth, a person at the booth will try to inveigle you to stop and learn about what they are selling and as a thank-you, you get a light-up pen. If you drop your business card in the fishbowl, you get a chance to be put on innumerable mailing lists (chance of winning: 100 per cent).

5. The stuff they give away at the exhibit hall. I don’t mind that conventions have exhibit halls but I do mind that the giveaways are so lousy. Why can’t they give away six-packs of mid-priced imported beer or something fun yet practical, such as cans of spray cheese?

6. The awards. By giving out awards, organisations elevate their own importance, as if the entire world really wonders who will get the Wayne W. Wormquist Golden Workstation Award this year. At one of my conferences, they gave a guy a “cubic foot of Kansas air” in a Plexiglas cube. Of course, they made him sound like Father Theresa before presenting it to him and insisted we give him a standing ovation. All I could think of was him trying to take this award home and explaining to some airport security person that it was a cubic foot of Kansas air. Full cavity search for him. Me? Easy sailing through security, plus beer and cheese for the flight home.