I was once invited to speak at a local government conference; I’d been doing some interesting work and someone somewhere thought I might be the perfect person to speak in workshop number 7 at some wonderfully specific conference.
I was absolutely thrilled and preceded to annoy my wife, my colleagues, my pets and even my car stereo by alternating between boasting and practising for my big moment.
Little did I know how monumentally insignificant my big moment would be.
You see, conferences in local government are a very odd thing. People from across the country cough up £100 or so (well their council’s do) and trek half way across the country to hear from ‘experts’ in the field about what it’s happening in their little part of the sector.
These conferences always seem to follow the same pattern:
- Arrive at about 10am having been on the train since very early o’clock.
- Event begins with some speeches in a large central hall. There may be a panel of people or just a series of back to back speeches. In at least half of the cases you will probably be graced by the presence of Ben Page and his powerpoint of public perception. Those who are really on it will already know nearly everything they hear as the presenter seeks to ensure that everyone is on the same page before the rest of the day kicks in.
- The workshops will commence. At every conference the same thing will be said: these workshops will be focused on all the participants working together and developing solutions to real problems in their work. And all of them will end up with a series of more presentations.
- Lunch will follow: For those who are really good with people this will be a pleasure with lots of impromptu conversations. For everyone else it can be a little awkward.
- More workshops. By now at least 10% of the attendees will have been involved in presenting or facilitating a workshop in one way or another. Many of the workshops will have been delivered at similar conferences both before and after.
- The wrap up. This will have terribly noble aims trying to tie everything together and ensure that everyone leaves with some positive messages. However, as the wrap up continues people will keep slipping out, desperate to catch a train that will get them home at a reasonable hour until the conclusion of the conference will come with only 50% attendance.
- We’ll all be asked to complete evaluation forms as we leave.
Meanwhile conference organisers make a tidy little profit on the back of our involvement.
It’s a mighty peculiar way of developing your staff but local authorities are reluctant to not attend the conferences.
After all what if something is missed?
And more importantly how else will this good practice get spread and learning take place?
Not all conferences are bad and many are useful; however, I’m pretty sure conferences aren’t the best way to learn. However, right now I just can’t think of anything better. Has anyone get any ideas?