I’ve been to some lousy conventions, and the more I go to, the less I want to go. Don’t get me wrong, I will usually take any chance to get out of the office and away from my boss, and my standards aren’t high, but it also occurred to me at a particularly bad conference that I might have been better off just pretending I attended and walking around Central Park all day instead.
There are lots of ways to ruin a convention/meeting/event so I came up with list of the Top 20. I’m calling it the “Convention Misery Index,” because I think if you count one point for each violation, you’ll be able to give a pretty good idea of just how bad it is. A four on the Convention Misery Index? Probably pretty good, so quit your whining. A 27? Well, personally, if it rises above 20, I’m sitting in my room and seeing what’s on cable before I venture back down to the event. If the boss asks why I missed everything after the first day, I’ll give a convincing story about how I was sick. It’s not hard to argue food poisoning. Everyone will cut you off once you start in on the details.
The Convention Misery index
1. Annoying ice breakers. You get at most one, maybe two, ice breakers before attendees are entitled to attack the planner with ice picks. No more. And two is only acceptable if more than 50 percent of the attendees show up after the first one. I was at a three-day conference in 2009, and there were five icebreakers. Five!
Each ice breaker after the first one: 1 misery point
2. No wireless. Also, an insufficient number of wireless routers, so that those that do exist are overwhelmed and slower than the Edge network. There’s no excuse for this — 150 people crammed in a room will overwhelm any 3G. If you think 150 annoyed people with smartphones is bad, then keep in mind how much more irritated they are that they can’t tweet about how annoyed they are. It’s a negative feedback loop.
Each session without wireless: 1 misery point
3. No place to charge devices. Everyone has a smartphone, and probably a laptop or tablet. Give us a place to charge these, or we’re going to be up in our rooms after four hours no matter how exciting your 1 p.m. session is. Our phones need juice, and they will not be denied. We are slaves to our phones. In the desert, people charge their phone and then look for water.
4. Long registration lines. It’s a first impression that says, “These people don’t have their act together.” Don’t use up all my patience before something goes wrong and you really need it.
Every 10 minutes in line: 1 point
5. No dedicated place for people to take calls means EVERY hallway fills with shouting idiots. Most people aren’t self-centered enough to sit in a crowded session and take a call. Well, most people know they can’t get away with it or if they try, other attendees will apply street justice. Events with dedicated areas for calls are much happier places.
6. Awful food. If you tried to shave $1.73 per attendee off the cost and give us terrible food, then I think it’s fair to roast you on a spit, with a nice honey glaze. Make mine medium well.
Each crummy meal: 1 point (1 additional point for anyone who gets food poisoning)
7. Not enough coffee, water and soda in session rooms. Don’t leave these in the hall or in the lobby — they need to be in the room. Because if they’re not, then people will be coming and going the whole session so they can get their afternoon fix.
1 point per session
8. Crunchy snacks set out during sessions. Providing snacks is nice, but not if I have to hear the jerk in the next row crunching on corn chips for an hour. If I snap and kill Mr. Crunch, you are an accessory to his murder.
1 point per session
9. Not enough doughnuts. Or worse, no doughnuts. I flew in last night, then went to your mixer. I overslept and missed breakfast. But I still need to be fed, so have something for me to grab on the way into the first session.
10. LOUD music. At mixers and other things, make sure people can hear each other talk. I know loud music makes some people feel that it’s cool and hip, but this is a work convention, not an East Village rave.
1 point (no penalty if it’s live music)
11. Annoying vendor pitches disguised as sessions. Or speakers who talk too much about their book. The minute the crowd realizes they got suckered into a pitch and it’s too late to go to another session, you have a problem. But I’m not an unreasonable man. If you let us boo and throw rotten produce at speakers we don’t like, then no misery points will be assessed.
Each vendor pitch: 1 point
12. Poorly chosen speakers. At one convention my co-worker and I started referring to the afternoon speakers as Boring, Mumbler, Buzzword and Tedious. I think Pointless was unavailable that week.
Each bad speaker: 1 point (3 if it’s the keynote)
13. Cold room. No one wants to see my nipples poking through my shirt. At least not since my botched boob job.
Any room below 70 degrees: 1 point
14. Presentation screen too small. I’m 32 years old with 20/20 vision. If I’m squinting from the third row, there’s a problem. Of course you may have a perfectly good-sized screen but some idiot panelist has a slide with 8-point type on it. Take a point off for that too.
1 point for each session where people can’t read what’s on the screen
15. No attempt to standardize #hashtag. Post it near the stage where all can see. Have the speaker say it before starting. This isn’t hard. For people who want to see what others are saying, not doing this is keeping them from seeing each other.
16. Too much PowerPoint. No more than 20 slides per hour. Anything more than that and it’s just boooorrrrring! Besides, people who get to go to these events probably get stuck sitting through plenty of PowerPoint back at the office.
1 point for every slide above 20
- Go to the bathroom
- Grab a beverage
- Answer that text from the boss
- And get my butt over thereBefore you set the schedule, walk from the two farthest conference rooms with a stopwatch. Add three minutes to that time. That’s how much we need.
18. Starting too early. Office work starts at 9 a.m. I’m attending because work sent me. Therefore, no sessions before 9 a.m. It’s OK to have a scheduled breakfast at 8, but no speakers. Let me eat and have coffee in peace.
1 point per speaker or session scheduled before 9 a.m.
19. At a hotel so cheap there’s nothing worth stealing in the rooms. OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but if the bed is more uncomfortable than the couch at the dorm you slept one off in college, find a nicer place. Nothing will ruin a conference faster than a bunch of people who didn’t sleep well for reasons other than their desire to parrrr-tay.
1 point per attendee
20. Cash bar. I can’t expense drinks any more, even at a meal. They require itemized receipts for everything, so I’m asking you — begging you — please find a way to at least get some beer and wine included in the cost.
Every event with included alcohol gets one point taken away because it decreases misery!
Bonus: Not enough hot women! This one is from my co-worker. He’s 47 and lives with his mother. This was his complaint about the last event he went to. Oh, and ladies, he’s loser2783 on Match.com. Look him up.
So how bad was your last convention/meeting/event? Add it up and see. And please add any complaints I missed to the comments below. Misery loves company.
Finally, to convention planners: Please, please, please find a way to include as many of the things I’ll need in the cost of the conference. The less receipts I have to get and fill out, the happier I’ll be.