Rob Davidson takes a conferencing crumb from the rich table of Davos
As I write, the 46th annual Davos meeting, the World Economic Forum, is drawing to a close, and, to be honest, I’m relieved.
Sure, it’s the world’s most successfully branded, high-profile annual conference. But, as far as enhancing the image of our industry goes, I don’t think it does us any great favours.
The media’s intensive daily focus on this annual schmooze-fest of the rich and powerful, with the partying, lavish dinners, ski-ing and the sheer extravagance of it (£19,000 entrance fee) must give a very distorted image of the conference industry to those who have never set foot inside a meetings venue. It’s as though your whole vision of life in everyday American society was based entirely on Dallas. No wonder conferences are synonymous with pointless, extravagant junkets, for certain sections of the population.
But, to give the world’s most exclusive conference some credit, I think that at least one good idea has emerged from Davos – and it’s nothing as grand as a solution to conflict in the Middle East or migrant crises – it’s about their conference badges. And I don’t mean the elaborate system of badges, the colours of which reveal your place in the Davos hierarchy: white ‘access-all-areas’ badges at the very top, with holograms that denote heads of state; orange badges for the media; purple ones for staff accompanying ministers, and so on. (Clearly, the colour of your badge matters a lot at Davos – to the extent that one first-time participant remarked that all the intensive staring at his chest made him realise what it must be like to have cleavage).
Neither do I mean the invidious Davos system of issuing ‘spouse badges’. Seriously? Are we stuck in 1955? Why don’t they go the whole hog and issue badges that simply read ‘Ignore me totally. I’m with whatshisname’?
No, I’m talking about the fact that, for the first time, the 2,500 delegates in the Swiss resort have had letters emblazoned on their badges to alert fellow delegates to their number of previous years of attendance at Davos. A ‘V’ for veteran was added to the badges of those who have attended the conference for 10 years or more. At the other end of the scale, an ‘N’ was added to badges to indicate a newcomer. I like the fact that this new system seems to have been designed to break down barriers between attendees, as those with a ‘V’ were encouraged to look after the Davos first-timers.
Association conferences in particular could consider adopting the Davos system of identifying the oldies and the newbies by their badges and setting up some kind of ‘buddy’ system. That way, there would be a higher probability that the newcomers have a positive experience – which in turn would make it more likely that they will come back the following year. And that’s in everyone’s interest.