The international conference season is in full swing, it seems. And conferences about conferences are proliferating everywhere. I just got back from a whistle-stop tour of Europe, speaking at no fewer than four such events in one week: Stockholm, Berlin, Seville and Gothenburg. A week of airport lounges, hotels and more trips on the Gatwick Express than most people have in a year.
I’m not complaining, though. These were conferences of meetings industry professionals so as well as speaking I did a lot of listening and learning.
For me, such events are a great source of up-to-date information on the state of the meetings market and the issues currently faced. This makes them my best reality check; a reassurance that what I’m teaching students about conferences is still relevant. The information I get from listening to other speakers and to the attendees is material you just can’t find in the textbooks, so for me it’s worth the early rises and queues in passport control.
But the experience of this week’s hectic schedule has left me wondering if there’s another, more subtle motivation for anyone who spends their time, and often money, in attending conferences, especially overseas: namely, the boost that it gives to the delegate’s (or speaker’s) self-esteem. It’s undeniable that being invited to attend or speak at a conference in distant lands brings its own shot in the arm to the attendee’s image.
But despite all the academic research that’s done into why people attend conferences, this is one type of motivation that’s almost never mentioned. And yet it’s undeniably a contributing factor that goes some way to explaining why some people sacrifice chunks of their social, cultural and family lives just to hop on to a flight to the other side of the world, to give a 20-minute presentation.
We shouldn’t knock it though. Too many people seem to think the need for high self-esteem is something reserved for the socially-challenged who are seeking to compensate for their own perceived deficiencies. But there’s nothing pathological about the need for high self-esteem.
For many, conference attendance is a sure-fire way of being recognised for their accomplishments and earning the respect of others.
We should be happy that our industry can provide this service, and, to be pragmatic about it, in the current climate, any factor contributing to the volume of conference business swilling around has to be a good thing.
– Rob Davidson is a Senior Lecturer in Events Management at the University of Greenwich.
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