It’s my birthday this month and, without giving anything away, I have to confess that this is the year where (by my definition) I become, there’s no other word for it, middle-aged. That doesn’t really bother me, think of all the poor souls who would love to live until their middle-age, but who, for one reason or another, won’t make it. No, it’s the spectre of middle-age spread that’s preoccupying me in the run-up to my Big Day. Especially as I’m in a high-risk profession for weight gain: a frequent conference attendee.
My theory, yet to be scientifically tested, is that attending conferences can seriously damage your waistline, and this gives me some cause for concern. OK, those who have met me ‘in the flesh’, as it were, know full well that I can hardly be described as borderline morbidly obese. But bingo wings actually do run in our family, so I have to be very careful if I’m to hold on to my enviably svelte figure.
I normally do that through the usual combination of careful eating and regular exercise. I’m on my feet most of the day, when teaching and criss-crossing the campus from one lecture theatre to another.
Now contrast this with my usual conference routine. Take, for example, the SITE conference I attended at the Bellagio in Las Vegas last October: a breakfast buffet piled high with temptation, then at the mid-morning networking break, gallons of milky coffee with blueberry muffins. A ‘power lunch’ of three courses, with wine; an afternoon coffee break with Danish pastries. And then, at the end of the day’s proceedings, just enough time to get changed before getting on the bus to the evening’s champagne-fuelled gala dinner, when the serious eating and drinking really gets going.
Now, you can say that a conference in the States is an extreme and atypical case; but my general point is that attendance at any conference can mean a break from any healthy routine you may have established for yourself.
Of course, conference F&B has come a long way in the past 50 years, partly thanks to the presence of more women at conferences and partly thanks to our increased knowledge in the health and nutrition field. So maybe the answer is to make conferences less sedentary by providing more opportunities for mobility: deliberately choosing seminar rooms that are some distance away from the plenary room, for example. Or, having networking ‘walks around the block’ during the breaks. And allowing enough time at the end of the day’s proceedings for delegates to use the hotel gym and pool, if they want to, before embarking on the conference’s evening programme.
We’re at that time of year at the university when the Events Management students have to choose their dissertation topics. This year, I’ll be leaning heavily (pardon the pun) on one of those students to investigate the impact of frequent conference attendance on delegates’ waistlines. Does such a phenomenon as ‘conference wings’ exist?
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