Your handy conference-talk guide

26 November 2009

So, I'm going through the list of talks and panel sessions at the IP-ESC conference trying to work out which ones are worth turning up to and which are best replaced with meetings. (If the acronyms IP and ESC mean nothing to you, you probably don't want to know any more about this event, so I won't explain it.)

Part of the process involves triaging sessions using just their title and abstract in those cases where you're not quite sure how good the speaker is. Actually, you can do it mostly by title because one thing I've found is speakers and the people who put their presentations together often try, and generally fail, to disguise their real intentions. Unfortunately, their real intentions often seem to be to deliver the most anodyne pabulum possible.

Here are some of the warning signs of talks that are guaranteed sleep inducers:

"Adventure" - It's obvious, really. You know you've a real yawner on your hands. So, what do you do? Spice it up with the word 'adventure' and maybe people will think you're Indiana Jones and will tattoo "Love you" on their eyelids. Or not, because you've actually tacked the word onto something suspiciously sedentary, such as "The 21-year SX101 flange-bracket adventure".

"X: what are the issues?" - This is one that tends to turn up in panel sessions. It's approximate shorthand for: "We don't know what this panel is about either, maybe you can help".

"Doing X with Y enables Z" - Generally, a sales pitch in disguise. Except the disguise has slipped a bit. Often, because the presenter is so upfront about it, there's a reasonable chance of finding some worthwhile content. Which is more than can be said for anything that involves the word...

"Evolution of..." - This one's deceptive. It looks interesting but is generally the conference equivalent of being sold double glazing. The speaker will generally airbrush history to make sure you agree that uPVC is indistinguishable from woo..er sorry, make sure you agree their product is The Future.

"Innovation..." - Let's face it. Experts around the world have tried to come up with a workable definition of 'innovation' that is better than "I'll know it when I see it". The word, unfortunately, is nothing more than a promise of forthcoming motherhood and apple pie. Don't ask what innovation is, only understand that it is good. And run don't walk from sessions entitled "Innovation through supply chain partnership" if you prize sanity or not being sent down for ten years for attempting to perform an appendectomy with the presenter's own Vaio.

Thinking about it, anything with 'leveraging', 'solution' or 'partnering' is generally one to be avoided. If you get more than one in the title, double your efforts to avoid it.