Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Confab on Conferences


I have always enjoyed attending conferences. The ones I have attended have always been interesting, a good excuse for doing no work and generally result in a huge “all fall down” party afterwards.

When I worked at Vital Health Foods the highlight of the year was the annual conference. It was always held at an amazing location and the evening activities were great fun. Sales reps are generally party animals even if they sell health products by day. By night, all thoughts of liver damage and depleted vitamin levels are expelled. Of course this meant that the conference room was filled with red eyed, incoherent zombies the next day. A small price to pay for excellent company camaraderie?

I recall a conference during my tenure with Fedics Food Services. After lunch most of the delegates seemed distracted and no-one was really paying attention. The poor speaker probably wished that they had allowed alcohol to be served with the lunch. Delegates then started to turn pink with spots and many excused themselves to hurriedly head for the loos. Well, as it turned out a whole bunch of us had food poisoning. Can you picture the scene? 3 Kombi loads of catering personnel arriving at the local hospital suffering from food poisoning! The hospital staff were highly amused. We all thankfully managed to regain our strength and the ability to hold down alcoholic beverages in time for the evening activities. Oh, just to clarify – Fedics were NOT doing the catering that resulted in its management team fighting over Kombi windows en route to hospital.

My latest conference experience was very different as it was a public conference and I was one of the speakers. Sure, there are people who do training and speaking as a profession so may be exempt, but anyone else who has to talk to 350 people and say that they are not nervous is either lying or delusional! There were some really interesting and inspiring speakers prior to my slot but I found it quite difficult to concentrate. My clammy hands and thoughts of totally stuffing up my presentation made paying attention difficult. I survived the ordeal unscathed and must admit to actually enjoying the experience even if I felt like a “rabbit in the headlights” with the bright lights blinding my ability to see whether the audience had nodded off or not.

I do not envy conference organisors. A lot of PR students see this part of the profession as glamorous and exciting. I don’t think they realise the hard work that goes into a well run conference. So, well done and thank you to the organisers of the eThekwini Women Empowerment 2 day conference. Nelisa Kala, a DJ at East Coast Radio, did a fantastic job as programme director. The Durban ICC runs like a well oiled machine and the ThoughtFire team and eThekwini Business Support and Markets Unit management ensured that all the women who attended had an inspiring, enlightening and enjoyable experience.

The conference culminated with a gala banquet. I managed to persuade Chicken Man to accompany me. He is generally reluctant to don a tie and jacket but seen as he had some practise the week before thanks to the Durban July, he agreed to attend without too much arm twisting and bribery.

Yet again, the activities were well organised and varied. From dancers and singers to videos and guest speakers. I enjoyed listening to Devi Sankree-Govender talking about her journey to Carte Blanche. Her great sense of humour comes through in her Sunday Times column but it was pleasing to hear that her humour is genuine and her success and popularity is well deserved.

It is a shame that a lot of companies are cutting back on conferences. A conference does not have to be all glitz and glamour and big bucks. It just needs to be an opportunity for staff to catch up and to bond and be able to leave with a sense of pride and loyalty in their company.

The main requisite for a successful company conference is a huge booze budget and hangover cures washed down with Red Bulls with breakfast.

2 comments:

  1. Once again, a great post from you. I've never been to a conference so it's cool to hear what goes on at one. lol. I like the idea of staff bonding and catching up, sounds like interesting entertainment.

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  2. Thanks Jo. The importance of staff morale should never be compromised. This is particularly true during hard times when extra bucks are scarce but staff need that reassurance that their company is doing okay and that their efforts are appreciated.

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