Conferences and clocks

Those who are getting on a bit (like me) may recall John Cleese’s character in the 1986 movie Clockwise, who was obsessed with punctuality. I am less neurotic, but what does distress me is when conference organizers let their schedule slip due to speaker overruns. I speak regulalrly at conferences, and this is a recurring problem. At a conference in Madrid a few weeks ago they managed to be well over an hour behind schedule by the time they resumed the afternoon session, while the otherwise very useful ETRE conferences are famed for their “flexible” schedule. At a large conference this is beyond just irritating, as you scramble to find speaker tracks in different rooms, all of which may be running to varying degrees behind schedule and starting to overlap.

This poor timekeeping is depressingly normal at conferences, which makes it all the nicer when you see how it should be done. I spoke yesterday at the IDC Business Performance Conference in London, which had an ambitious looking 14 speakers and two panels squeezed into a single day. If this was ETRE they would have barely been halfway through by dinner time, yet the IDC line-up ran almost precisely to time throughout the day. It was achieved by the simple device of having a clock in front of speaker podium ticking away a countdown, so making it speakers very visibly aware of the time they had left. I recall a similar device when I spoke at a Citigroup conference in New York a couple of years ago, which also ran like clockwork.

The conference was a case study in competent organization, with good pre-event arrangements, an audio run-through for each speaker on site, and speaker evaluation forms (some conferences don’t even bother with this). The attendees actually bore a distinct resemblance to those promised, both in quality and number; recently some conference organizers seem have had all the integrity of estate agents when quoting expected numbers. The day itself featured some interesting case studies (Glaxo, Royal Bank of Scotland, Royal Sun Alliance, Comet) and a line-up of other speakers who mostly managed to avoid shamelessly plugging their own products and services (mostly). Even the lunch time buffet was edible.

In terms of memorable points, it seems that the worlds of structured and unstructured data are as far part as ever based on the case studies, whatever vendor hype says to the contrary. Data volumes in general continue to rise, while the advent of RFID presents new opportunities and challenges for BI vendors. RFID generates an avalanche of raw data, and a presenter working with early projects in this area reckoned that vendors were completely unable to take advantage of RFID so far. Common themes of successful projects were around the need for active business sponsorship and involvement in projects, the need for data governance and stewardship and for iterative approaches giving incremental and early results. Specific technologies were mostly (refreshingly) in the background in most of the speeches, though the gentleman from Lucent seemed not to have got the memo to sponsor speakers about not delivering direct sales pitches. With Steve Gallagher from Accenture reckoning that BI skills were getting hard to find, even in Bangalore, it would suggest that performance management is moving up the business agenda.

Well done to Nick White of IDC for steering the day through so successfully. If only all conferences ran like this.

One thought on “Conferences and clocks”

  1. I still prefer the guy with the shephards crook for getting people off the stage when their time is up. It is a more enjoyable experience when all the speakers are sticking to alloted time and you get less people scurrying out before the presentation is over.

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