I would assume that many of you have, at some point in your life, attended a conference. Most of us have visited more than one. Some of us have registered at several each year. And there’s a chunk of the population who make it a weekly habit to show up at the gathering of any crowd bringing in more than a dozen people—whether it’s the opening of a seminar, a movie, or even a paper bag. Something exciting must be happening, right? Except I’m not entirely sure how they make a living in order to financially skip around from place to place and meeting to meeting. I’m guessing it has something to do with the ability to subsist on free coffee from Starbucks, ample soap in the washrooms and the talent to sleep beneath one of the long, cloth-draped banquet tables in Ballroom C.
As a little kid, I was dragged to countless music conferences. These were meetings where, in place of your regular instructor telling you that you were holding the violin bow incorrectly, someone roughly the same size, but with a different hairstyle and an accent did it instead. We paid a lot of money to hear those assessments.
Following that, there were a few times when I realized I had to make money to pay rent and would agree to work with a couple of friends at the convention centers. We never got the fun jobs of Hopsitality Hero Ambassadors, handing out bumper stickers, wrist bands and key chains—the stuff everybody truly wanted–but instead were pressed into service dressing up as mascots for whatever “themed” group booked the convention center for the weekend. Our jobs—mine in particular—usually involved wearing a multi-layered, polyester costume with a giant head that required several extra pairs of hands using excessive force to shove it through a doorway. Why folks from auto shows or handicraft fairs wanted to have their photos taken with Simpson characters was a total mystery to me. Nickelodeon was like fairy dust. Everyone wanted a handful.
For a while, I’d occasionally tag along with my husband to medical conventions, but those symposiums were dry and serious. None of the booths offered any interesting toys. Pharmaceutical companies refused to hand out samples. Medical device companies had big slogans that involved words like insert, slice, and strip away. And all the lectures showed slides of pink organs, green organs or spurting wounds. I usually fought the urge to raise my hand and ask the presenter to repeat the last fifteen minutes because he lost me somewhere around the phrase uncontrolled colonic cell growth.
Still with me? *snap*snap* Yeah, let’s move on.
Having just attended a multi-day book festival in my town for the umpteenth year in a row, there is one thing I’ve come to realize that holds true as a sort of “golden rule:”
As diverse as the vast population is in the “outside” world, there is a fistful of personalities that exists only within a convention center.
1. The person who stakes out a seat—front and center—and shows up to do so 45 minutes before a speaker’s presentation. Apparently, they believe the lecture might involve magic—some sort of sleight of hand rather than the usual umm … I don’t know … lecturing.
2. The person in the back of the room who, without fail, and within the first ten seconds of a session, will stand up and shout, “WE CAN’T HEAR YOU!” I bet there’s an audio/visual guy who’s sitting three chairs down from that fellow who’d love to clock him one and scream back, “GIVE ME A FRICKIN’ CHANCE, DUDE!”
3. The person presenting who has never seen a microphone, never talked to a crowd and believes she’s just sitting up on a platform, sharing a glass of cold water with a few colleagues entirely bemused as to why there’s a guy in the back of the room who keeps shouting at her.
4. The person who, when Q & A time comes, and after being politely asked not to by the moderator, stands and asks a three point question with follow-ups. Who are you? Helen Thomas? Did I walk into a presidential press conference?
5. The person who, after receiving the nod from the moderator to ask a question, flips to the front of their notepad and begins to strip away all credibility of our panelists by throwing in head-spinning phrases like statistics illustrate that, and in consonance with Google analytics, and according to four out of five dentists surveyed. I think you get my point. No one likes you. Please sit down. You’re way too important to be here anyway.
6. The person who is obviously following you around. And sitting next to you. And wants to share. And do lunch. And decided to come to the conference because she simply had to “get out of the house.” Huh? Coming to a lecture about writing for technology and publishing digitally was really a better option for you than laundry? I would have chosen laundry. It’s a good thing she was there, though, because she let me copy all her notes after I fell asleep on her shoulder ten minutes into the talk.
Yes, there’s a lot out there in the world to discover. And going to a convention is a great way to get out of your office chair and learn something that hasn’t been turned into a TED Talk yet. Plus, it’s probably a heck of a lot better for your social life than simply conversing with like-minded folks on Twitter.
Let’s not forget the biggest perk. There’s a good chance you may get a photo op with Bart Simpson.
Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.