Five Reasons Conferences Suck (and what we are doing about it)

It’s conference season!  Yay!  After months of pawing through flyers promising inspiration and weeks of submitting presentation proposals, the time has finally arrived to fill out travel authorizations and hit the road.

It’s too bad the conferences are going to be so disappointing when we get there.

Come on. You know I’m right.

Off the top of my head, here are some of the biggest problems:

  1. There is almost nothing new at conferences:  The whole conference experience is designed to appeal to newbies. That design problem perpetuates itself as speakers propose ideas that are slow and over the plate to improve their odds of being accepted. If you’ve got more than a few years in Higher Ed, well, you probably know more than most speakers are going to tell you at a conference.
  2. Too many under-prepared presenters:  Of course there are!  Considering how scaled-back the information they are giving really is, it’s unsurprising so few presenters spend much time in the prep work.
  3. Too Much Love: Too many sessions become platforms to recommend a personal favorite tool. Sure, maybe the new app your found is marginally better than the ones that came before. But do we really need to spend 50 minutes learning about it? What do we get out of watching you use it … assuming you can manage to get online with the bad conference WiFi?
  4. No high-level discourse:  Most conferences have reduced themselves to the least they can do to please the most attendees. There isn’t a high enough concentration of experienced participants in any one session to raise the level of discussion and reflection.  The under-prepared do their thing for an audience made up largely of newbies while more experienced folks in attendance gather in small groups by the snacks table or blow off the conference all together.
  5. No risk taking:  The worst disappointment of all is this:  In an environment that should be all about the exciting things we are doing, the fabulous ways we tried and failed, and our hopes and visions for the future, we are left with the professional development equivalent of the first day of a freshman seminar.

Those are the problems, or at least some of them.  So what are we doing to fix the situation?  First, we are doing what Green Light does: speaking truth.  Conferences are generally bad, and you already knew that. Saying that conferences disappoint is different from snickering quietly in the back of the room or skipping out for an afternoon in favor of a tourist attraction.

We need to stand up.  We need to go to conferences and present, and we need to do better.  Our messages to our colleagues need to be clear, detailed, supported, and useful.  They deserve a  good experience, and so do we.

Green Light will be taking this message on the road … on the conference circuit.  We will blog openly and honestly from the conferences we attend, and assuming we are accepted for all of them, we will be presenting too.  If you see us at a conference, say something, and come loaded for bear.  We will be prepared and we will engage with you at our highest level:

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