I attended a conference this past week. A conference is a three-dimensional, marginally more animated, bizarrely cast version of reading a couple of books. In fact, for the acquisition of actual knowledge and the ability to stop and have a glass of red when you’ve had enough, a book is infinitely better. I have to assume therefore that conference participants have ulterior motives. From my observations, these are the top twelve reasons why people go to conferences.
1. If you’re somebody in your small shrubbery of expertise, that is to say if you’ve written books or edited journals, it gives you the opportunity to be felt. Fans may step up and give you a quick adulation and ask you to pose while their cousin Brenda photographs you together. At the very least they’ll point at you and whisper things about you under their breaths. This is your Paris Hilton fix for the year.
2. It gets you out of the home/office/doghouse for a few days.
3. Even if you have a dodgy personality and/or an awful accent, you still get fifteen minutes with a captive audience to expound on some baffling nonsense that only you know or care about.
4. You get to stay in a hotel which, although it never actually happens, is an environment with huge potential for extra-marital activities.
5. You get coupons for food and beverage which gives you the false impression that it’s all free.
6. You get to mingle and exchange name cards with people you have nothing in common with and overstate your importance.
7. You receive an actual printed invitation to an opening reception which makes you feel special despite the fact that everyone got the same invitation. Once there, you realize that all the drinks on the tray are non-alcoholic but by then the doors are locked and you have to sit through two hours of ‘humorous’ speeches and ‘entertainments’ that you could only really enjoy if the coke and fizzy orange contained hard liquor.
8. You get to listen to a ‘keynote’ address. Keynote is Latvian for excruciating. The keynote is just like any other long boring speech but it’s given by a shrubbery celebrity. The success of this event is assessed by exactly how many people fall asleep despite this being the first day and everyone being still fresh and excited. Even though, in all honesty, nobody has understood the keynote address, they all refer to it during the week as if it were a late-discovered Dead Sea monologue.
9. You get a conference goody bag which contains tourism leaflets, inedible boiled sweets, insurance offers, invitations to things you really don’t want to go to, an out-of-date conference program that you have to go through by hand and change, a book they couldn’t sell, something made/molded/crafted or dug up in or around the town where the conference is held, and a pen with just enough ink in it to fill half of one of the twenty sheets of blank paper with a bank logo in the bottom corner.
10. You get to stand up at the end of a paper, grab a live microphone and speak about something totally unconnected to the topic. This is called karaoke for failed academics.
11. You have the unique opportunity to sample Antarctic conditions without forking out on a plane ticket to Faz. Like loudspeakers, air-conditioners in Thailand do have control buttons that contain a range of settings. But, ‘If you’ve got it, Max it’ (contemporary Thai saying)
12. You get to go home. This is my personal favourite. There you can open a couple of books and find out what it was really all about.
As a one-time educator, I have attended numerous conferences. I was told that the perfect conference is one that leaves you asking questions at the end of it. That’s good to know because I always have a question after a conference. Why do I continue to attend the bloody things?