Archive for June, 2008

Conference organization is pretty much the same the world over.


Choose a city. Find a venue. Invite speakers. Notify prospective delegates. And so on.


Most conferences will have a number of keynote speakers: Well-known figures from the field, acknowledged experts, leading-edge movers and shakers.


Other speakers will be less well-known: Newbies, fringe thinkers, toe-dippers, less magnetic luminaries.


At some point, rooms will be allocated to speakers. As a rule, keynote speakers are obviously given bigger rooms to accommodate larger audiences. Fairly basic logistics.


You’d think.


Here’s where Canada may verge from the norm.


At a certain conference in the Atlantic provinces this past week, a different mindset prevailed.


Industry gurus were assigned closet-sized spaces. Complete unknowns, however, presenting on less than compelling topics, found themselves in huge auditoriums – amphitheatres of proclamatory vastness.


Upshot 1: Hundreds of delegates from far-flung corners of the second largest country on the planet were unable to hear the keynote speakers. Speakers who were their sole reason for attendance in the first place.


Upshot 2: Keynote speakers delivered presentations in intemperate claustrophobic closets. Vowing never to return.


Upshot 3: Unknown speakers stuttered through sparsely-attended rambles and workshops in silent amphitheatres. One speaker found herself facing eight individuals scattered about the benches like a scale model of the solar system.


Upshot 4: Angry mobs of ordinarily civil Canadians demanded some semblance of an explanation.


The official explanation was that the committee felt that, in the interests of equality, B-list toe-dippers should have the monster rooms. This way the crowds would be more evenly spread and

lesser lights would not feel embarrassed beside the enormous halls granted to the stars of the show.


So they mixed it up a bit.


No doubt those poor soporific souls in huge halls facing a dwindling audience of six people were comforted in the knowledge that the committee was doing all it could to minimize their shame.


Striving not to cause offence can sadly provide ample incendiary matter for a gleeful offence-taking frenzy.


“There’s enough material there for an entire conference.”



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