Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Things to remember to survive a conference

High everybody! Greetings from Salt Lake City, home of a bunch of Mormons, a big salty lake thingy, and the 79th Annual Society of Rheology Conference. (Sorry, Seth, but no Alps.) While I'm away from Humid-ston and enjoying the cool, dry Utah air, I thought it might be nice to share a few of the more important lessons I've learned over the years when attending a conference.

  1. Wear heavy clothes. This one is potentially the most important thing to remember. Even if the meeting is in Death Valley, they will manage to chill the conference rooms to sub-Arctic conditions. I've actually seen the foolish and unprepared end up like Ötzi, the frozen Stone Age hunter. So, watch out.
  2. Johnny 5
  3. The opening plenary lecture will be esoteric. It will be over your head. It will also interest only 1-2% of a crowd of people in that field. Be careful of this opening lecture: if not prepared, you brain will short circuit and the rest of the conference will be worthless.
  4. Similar to #2, pace yourself. There is only so much a human brain can process in a single day before it begins to ooze out your ears. If you fail to pace yourself, expect the label of "vegetable" to be attached to the rest of your career.
  5. (For men only.) Even in a scientific society such as this, there will be one or two ladies who look and dress like porn stars. Don't let them distract you - they are probably also smarter than you, and will make you look like a fool. And, married men, you shouldn't be going there anyway.
  6. Inevitably, you will run into former colleagues at these things. Some are happy folk, who love their life. Others are bitter. Be nice to the bitter ones, who tell you the same stories of woe every year. They need an ear to hear their stories. Plus, this keeps you from being labeled "the jerk I used to work with" among your peer group.
I hope these little tips will help you survive. They are also equally applicable to business meetings, school reunions, and ping pong tournaments.

What other tips did I miss. Please share them with me.

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euphrony said...

Okay, no connection to conferences, but I have to raise this.

Last night I saw a lady who was walking with the assistance of a cane - while wearing three-inch heels. WHY????

Chaotic Hammer said...

My company attends many trade shows and similar conferences each year, but I never attend because they are for the sales folks, not the system admin folks.

I don't have a tip, but I do have a general opinion about these conferences -- I think they are often not all that beneficial for a majority of attendees (at least, not in the ways they purport to be), and are perpetuated by a conspiracy of sorts, between the cities that want to bring in visitor dollars, all the businesses that benefit from them, and of course the members of the academic or trade societies that use attendance of said events as an excuse to travel to lots of new and exciting places and engage in mostly bad behavior.

With internet conferencing and all the other technology we have today, it seems to me that useful information for various trades and scientific disciplines could be shared easily, with a lot less need for everyone to gather in person.

In the mid-80's I worked for an oilfield equipment company in Houston (as a warehouseman) and I was asked to be a shuttle driver at one of these things, and it was shameless, blatant, and obvious how corrupt pretty much everyone and everything there was -- it was like a wild party at the Playboy Mansion or something, with the conference acting as a very flimsy front.

I'm sure there are exceptions here and there, and some are worse than others. And I also don't mean to impugn you personally, Euphrony, because I'm sure that for all those people using these things as an excuse for debauchery, there are a few who will behave themselves, get to see lots of great new places, and will actually benefit from the information. I'd also bet that each different group or trade has its own subculture, and the generally accepted social norms vary greatly from one to another, as far as what is considered professional and acceptable. (Your group, for example, may be such a genuinely geeky bunch, that a lot of scantily-clad hot women showing up ready to party would be... well, awkward. I'm just sayin'...)

Chaotic Hammer said...

Last night I saw a lady who was walking with the assistance of a cane - while wearing three-inch heels. WHY????

I have no idea, but I saw a preview for the new Bionic Woman show (which I haven't actually seen) and she looked to be wearing high heels in every scene they showed -- while running fast, kicking people in the face, jumping over buildings and through windows, etc.

I don't know, maybe they have some sort of secret gadgets hidden away in the heels or something. Or maybe the shoes are permanently attached to her artificial legs, because they needed a little extra room for the battery packs or something.

euphrony said...

Just how beneficial a conference really is depends a great deal on the conference/group. This is a very scientific society, and the talks are all very high quality. Being able to talk face to face with people who are some of the smartest in their fields, and talk to them all at the same time, is very valuable; the total interaction would never be achieved in conference calls/teleconferencing. I've got a couple of pages of notes that, over the next year or two, will lead to investigations and work that could greatly benefit my company. So, this is a very useful thing for someone like me, in research.

Now, on the other hand, I strictly avoid the trade-show type meetings, as all it is tends to be an excuse for drinking and golf by the sales and upper management. I don't want to go and hear some loosely veiled sales pitches, be swamped by vendors, and feel out of place when everyone stays up half the night drinking and carousing. Not the "conference" for me.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget to always have your cell phone handy... just in case you need to pretend to be on it.

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