Thoughts on Conference Endings [en]

[fr] Quelques réflexions sur les fins de conférence (Web 2.0 Expo s'est vraiment fini en queue de poisson, avec démontage avant même la fin des présentations!)

Je pense qu'il a un cercle vicieux en jeu qui fait partir les gens avant la fin car il n'y a plus rien d'intéressant, et puisque les gens partents, les organisateurs ne se "donnent" pas sur la fin.

Je proposerais une dernière session sous forme de keynote "à ne pas rater", suivie d'un apéro qui permettra de finir en douceur.

As I stepped out in the hallway at the end the session discussion on Gender Issues in Web 2.0 Careers that Suw had invited me to participate in, I was quite surprised to find myself amongst booth parts, piles of branding material, and the general noise of things being taken apart.

Gosh, I thought, I hadn’t realised we were the last session!

The thing is& we weren’t.

I tried to get a cup of tea, but that was not possible anymore. Everything was closing down, the sponsors had left, the attendees were scuttling out of the venue like rats off a sinking ship.

After a bit of wandering around, I headed upstairs to the main conference room. A courageous speaker was presenting to a thin crowd amidst the clanging of the workers downstairs.

What a sad ending to what had otherwise been a rather nice conference experience.

I bumped into Jen in a corridor somewhere, and we exchanged a few same-wavelength thoughts on what was going on.

I remember being advised to keep a really good speaker for the last sessions of Going Solo, to discourage attendees from leaving early. It seems to be kind of understood that specially in the case of a multi-day conference, most attendees are going to leave before the end to catch planes and trains to go back to their loved ones (or their pile of work). So speakers don’t want end slots, and conference organisers don’t want to risk putting an important session in the last slot because “everyone” will miss it.

I say it’s a vicious circle, and conference organisers need to have the balls to make things change. Plan drinks after the last session. Make the last session a really good keynote. Announce it in advance. Sell it clearly to attendees when they register to the conference: make it something they will not want to miss. Plan for the keynote to end reasonably early, allow an hour for drinks, networking and saying good-bye, and ensure people can still get an evening flight back to where they came from.

I bet you people will start staying. If you don’t believe in your ending, they certainly won’t.

I think it is important to change this for two main reasons:

  • First, the peak-end phenomenon. We judge an experience by how it was at its best/worst, and how it ended. That’s why firework shows end with a big bang (“bouquet final” in French), speeches end with a smart closing point that sums things up, and the last 5 minutes of a movie can kill it. As conference organisers, we want everybody to go home with the most positive feeling possible about the event. Let’s not act like high-school students who do not know how to end an essay.
  • Second, saying good-bye. I find it incredibly frustrating not to be able to say good-bye to the people I’ve met or connected with during the conference. The absence of real ending makes it near to impossible to do so. Drinks at the conference venue, on the other hand, make it possible: “everyone” will be there, and people will leave little by little, so you actually get a chance to say bye.

Now, I’ve been wondering if there is a cultural streak to the importance of saying good-bye. I know that for me personally, it’s very important. (Maybe a bit too much so, though I’ve loosened up quite a bit over the years.) Are cultures which are a little less formal (I’m thinking of the US in particular) less concerned about saying good-bye?

For fun (mainly), I’ve designed a little poll to try and figure this out. Please take a minute to fill in the form below. Yes, it’s quite binary, isn’t it? If anything interesting comes out of it, I’ll let you know.

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on Conference Endings [en]

  1. I think SHiFT did this in a great way. Tara Hunt was clearly one of the most expected talkers, and she was the last one. In the last day, the sessions ended earlier to have room for some glasses of wine from the sponsor. And there was that unforgettable pizza party afterwards.

  2. Oh, I was going to write a post that said exactly what you have! The end was awful. I was trying to have a conversation with someone at the seating outside of the B8 room, but I had a headache and the clanging and clanking of stands being dismantled really meant I couldn’t cope, so we retreated to the speaker lounge. Even in there, all I could really hear were the sounds of things being taken down.

    And this was *during* the last session. It really was awful – if nothing else it was rude and showed a disrespect for the final speakers, but it also left a very bad taste in my mouth. Really, was there any need for the stands to be dismantled at 4pm? The conference finished pretty early – at about 4.30pm or 5pm – and there was a party on at 10pm that night, so I can’t see why there couldn’t have been a closing drinks session until 7pm. OK, some people would have had to leave a bit early, but make sure there’s something worth staying for on the schedule and most people will.

    I’ve been to a lot of conferences, but I’ve never been to one where the expo was dismantled and gone before the talks were even over.

  3. That kind of behaviour at an event that I have paid to attend would make me feel like the organisers were solely interested in making money at any cost and that they did not value the quality of the participants experience.

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