Though she has been to scores of conferences, our writer is yet to master the art of picking the right session!

Conventions have become like carnivals. Less colourful, perhaps, because most delegates — men and women — are in black.

But there is plenty of song, dance and drama about nothing, a mélange of interesting cuisine, occasional laughs and, of course, a lot of earnest young women and men looking very bored.

In the last 12 months I have attended every convention in sight — and there are far too many of those nowadays. Yet, sadly, I must confess I still haven't managed to quite get the art of picking and choosing what to attend and what to skip right.

So often the only session I choose to bunk turns out to be the best, and vice versa.

Increasingly, I am also finding that the unknown Indian middle manager entity proves surprisingly good, presenting relevant case studies, while the star-billed ‘gora' speaker turns out to be a damp squib.

Gone are the days when an industry had one seminal event where the cream of the speakers shared learning, a must-attend event, where you just had to be seen. Now each industry has at least 10-12 events in the calendar year, each competing for the same set of speakers.

Result: Often, the star speaker, who is no doubt charging an arm and leg, arrives with the same speech and the same set of slides.

Also, why do all these conferences have to start at ungodly hours? Again my luck is out. If you reach early, the event begins an hour late and the keynote by the celebrity CEO is a washout.

But be late and woe be upon you: It turns out to have a spectacular opening, the event is oversubscribed, you either have to stand uncomfortably around in your high heels or go to the distant hall where they are beaming the session live — and, of course, the camera angles are all wrong, showing the audience when it should be focusing on the slides.

Also, why is it that at most conferences, the speaker you want to hear most has maddeningly pulled out at the last moment? Either his office screwed up the visa papers, the flight arrived late, or he falls sick — the number of speakers who have fallen prey to Delhi Belly is not funny.

Then there is the new trend of the spiritual speakers. Both at TiECon held last month and AdAsia, last week, getting top billing were monks and swamijis (Nithya Shanthi at the former event and Swami Sukhabodhananda at the latter) eloquently sharing transformational ideas on happiness and uncertainty. Foolishly, I skipped these sessions thinking I didn't need any spiritual gyan only to find they were the rock stars of the event. Next event I spot a saffron-clad guru, I am bagging the front row.

Despite all this I must say it is fun — if for nothing else than to watch delegate behaviour. This can be classified into four types.

The eager beaver: He arrives early, sits in the front row, doesn't miss any session, has questions ready — and very often these are not questions, but long-winded opinions of his own. And as soon as the speaker gets off the podium, he rushes to have a private chat with his academic hero.

The busy bee: He is physically present in the hall, but mentally probably still in his office, chasing deadlines as he opens his Blackberry, iPad, iPhone or laptop (sometimes two together), and types away furiously. Doesn't seem to hear a word of what is going on in the hall.

The Absentee Delegate: This is the twerp whose company registers him for an event in good faith, who attends the first session and the valedictory one, but is pretty much AWOL, either catching up with friends and relatives, seeing the sights or doing his own thing.

The Networker: Hyperactive during the coffee break, his sole purpose of attending conferences is to network with peers, seniors, which is okay, I guess, considering that this is what these conferences are now mostly about.

The mystery delegate: Then there is always the question mark delegate, who is not from the industry, who probably is a gatecrasher in there for the food, who attaches himself like a leech to someone or the other and is hard to get rid of.

Then, of course, there are journalists like me, fishing for the interesting sidelights to the conference and whether we can buttonhole an important guest for an interview!

(This article was published on November 6, 2011)
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