Monday, October 08, 2007

Ten things to NOT do at a conference

Well, overall I am liking the GME meeting I am at. But not all of it. And some things here are instructional for what NOT to do at a conference, either as an attendee or as a presenter or as an organizer. Here are some of them

DO NOT:
  1. Go way over your allotted time to speak. Even if the chair of a session lets you do this, don't. It is rude to the audience and to other speakers.
  2. Lack empathy for your audience. Take a few minutes to imagine what the audience might want to get from your talk. Some of the speakers here are much more concerned with what they will get from the presentation.
  3. Use a lot of slides with way way way too small text or images.
  4. Answer cell phone calls in the middle of the audience. Yes, that's right, scientists can be jackasses. Imagine that.
  5. Corner people who are on the way to the restroom. Let people go.
  6. Make an opening statement when asking questions like "That was a great talk" or "That was an interesting talk" or anything like that. Don't be a suckup. Just ask your question.
  7. Be rude to the meeting helpers when you forget something. Come on. If you are not registered for the meeting it is most likely that you screwed something up, not the meeting.
  8. Ask many follow up questions after your question. If you want to have a discussion, buy a beer for someone. If you have a straightforward question that is answerable - ask it. If you want to make a simple statement, fine. If you want to go on and on ... get a room.
  9. Write in your blog in the back of the room (hey, I did not say I was perfect).
  10. Have too little time for breaks. The best part of conferences is the coffee and other breaks. No need to have too many talks. Have lots of breaks.

I am sure there are other things to not do ... but these are those that come to mind right now.

14 comments:

  1. Great post, Jonathan... :-)

    I'd be interested to know what people think about your point #9. I've been taking notes on my laptop for years now, and I've seen attitudes change dramatically since I started: At first, I had to sit in the back, so that the sensitive ears of others wouldn't be offended by the clicking of the keys...Nowadays, perhaps because it's more common (and perhaps because keyboards are quieter), I hardly ever get blowback when I take notes during conferences.

    Blogging is just one step removed -- operationally, it's certainly hard for anyone to tell whether a person is taking notes for themselves or for the dozen unlucky souls who read their blog -- and one could think of it as simply being a particularly active form of note-taking: compared to someone who is more or less transcribing/rephrasing a speaker's words, a blogger has to engage the subject a lot more actively.

    As I've started blogging, I've taken to making notes for the blog during talks, and sometimes even working on articles. Sometimes that's all that's keeping me in the room, to be honest.

    What do folks think? Genuine rudeness, minor infraction or reasonable behavior?

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  2. cp

    i think it is a minor infraction... but I was conscious of misbehaving a bit while writing the blog so I figured I should include that as part of the blog itself

    but I do not really know --- I think that as long as you do not disturb those around you with loud typing or talking, blogging is fine but I still felt a bit bad about it

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  3. I for one appreciate your blogging in the middle of the conference... I am not attending but enjoyed your notes on the talks practically in real time!

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  4. Go way over your allotted time to speak. Even if the chair of a session lets you do this, don't. It is rude to the audience and to other speakers.

    Even worse, don't go over your allotted time if you're moderating a session. This happened in my session at SMBE (I wasn't the moderator, but my talk started ~10mins late). The moderator loses all credibility when they kick off a session with a 30min presentation for a 15min session.

    In the end, no one should ever moderate a session in which they are presenting.

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  5. Liveblogging a conference is now so normal that people are writing HowTo handbooks on it.

    "ozbezno" - the kaptcha word below, probably means something naughty in an East European language ;-)

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  6. 6. Make an opening statement when asking questions like "That was a great talk" or "That was an interesting talk" or anything like that. Don't be a suckup. Just ask your question.

    That's a cultural thing. MD's and other researchers in medical-ish fields always preface questions with "Bob Smith, University of Minnesota, good talk, good talk..." They think it's rude when more basic researchers just launch straight into the question.

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  7. I have one that particularly irked me.
    Do not advertise a poster size for your conference that is much larger than the poster boards at the actual conference.

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  8. Job well done. It's been my pet peeve over the years that people get through school and take jobs as teachers and presenters. Yet very few schools require courses in presentation skills, where one learns what to do or not to do. You've given a good summary of the Don'ts. Here's one more: turn your back to the audience and talk to the screen.

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  9. Amen to all except #9. Blogging counts as note taking (adding value :) ) and I have no problem with that...now someone playing Solitaire or WoW in a talk is another issue (have been horrified to have seen both at the same conference!).

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  10. Keyboard typing is equivalent to note taking on paper provided the keyboard is no noisier than a pen. If you plan on using your laptop to take notes, check its noise level before buying it, or sit in a back corner away from other people.

    IMHO in a multi-talk session, or when there are parallel sessions, it's a major crime to go even one minute over your allotted time. Because we speakers can't be trusted to abide by this, we session chairs must fiercely enforce it.

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  11. On #7 I agree on the not being rude part but take some issue with the "it was your fault" bit. I recently arrived at a conference to find out I was not registered despite being repeatedly assured by the organizers prior to the meeting that everything was OK. Ultimately not a big deal, but the knife cuts both ways when it comes to clerical mistakes...

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  12. OK ... here are some responses

    Rachel - sorry I slacked off on the posting. I realized I had not finished preparing my talk for the second day ... so I stopped blogging and starting futzing around with powerpoint.

    RPM - That is perhaps the single most annoying thing in the world. I too have been in sessions where the moderator spoke for way too long.

    JSinger - Saying "Jonathan Eisen, U. C. Davis" - that would be a good thing. Adding "Great talk - I loved it" may be a culturing thing with MDs but I know for a fact that many of those who said such stuff are not MDs. Cultural or not, it drives me batty.

    Bill K - the poster thing is sometimes the fault of the location. I have organized meetings where the tell you one poster size and then the spaces or boards are not even close.

    Angie - that turning the back thing is also troubling but hard to avoid doing if you do not will yourself to look at the audience.

    Garry and Rosie --- blogging may be like note taking. But if others know you are doing it (as some did here) it might be considered a "public nuisance." Mostly though, I just thought I should mock myself a bit.

    Mihai -- you are right. I was just annoyed by a conversation I overheard.

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  13. IMHO in a multi-talk session, or when there are parallel sessions, it's a major crime to go even one minute over your allotted time. Because we speakers can't be trusted to abide by this, we session chairs must fiercely enforce it.

    Absolutely. In my opinion, it is LESS RUDE for an audience member to stand up and say "You are over time. You are done. Next talk!" than for a speaker to go over time.


    Thanks for putting this up.

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