Never mind the quality, feel the width

July 10th 2013

Many conferences are starting to move away from the classic  series of 50-60 minute time slots for keynote presentations and break-out sessions.

Since the advent of the highly successful TED  events with their 15 minute slots it would appear that this format is rapidly being incorporated in association and corporate events.

The most astonishing version of this I’ve come across is at an events industry event held this month – ‘The Meetings Show UK’.  Under the heading of ‘education’ they ran 122 x 15 minute sessions over 3 days!  Yes, you read it correctly – 122 separate sessions each one running no more than 15 minutes.   The program was designed by ‘a panel of leading industry figures’ none of whom were event architects, content curators or event designers.  They were almost without exceptions from the logistics and venue hire side of the industry – highly experienced no doubt in their respective fields.  I wonder, would a committee composed of entertainers and performers be the best choice for managing event logistics?

This style of agenda design might have been almost acceptable if the sessions were used as ‘teasers’ for future planned education events.  But no, they were stand alone sessions.  15 minutes per topic was all the ‘education’ delegates were going to receive.  Given that most delegates never take notes I have no idea how  they  were going to recall anything of value back in the workplace when they were being bombarded with so many ideas.

I do hope that this isn’t a sign of things to come.  Isn’t our purpose to provide quality not quantity?  If we try to be all things to all people  we’ll end up offering  nothing to nobody.   Hopefully common sense will prevail and we’ll see these 15 minute sessions used in a purposeful way as part of the overall event design and not the event design itself.

One also wonders at the overall quality of the speakers ‘The Meetings Show’ presented to their delegates when they had so many slots to fill.  Condensing a topic into 15 minutes is considered challenging for even the most experienced of presenters; for non-professional speakers it’s potentially a recipe for at  the least disappointment if not disaster.