Off To Your Next Conference? A Cautionary Tale.

Off To Your Next Conference? A Cautionary Tale.

Disclaimer: This may be a fictional story.

So here I sit at thirty thousand feet shoe horned into a smelly vinyl seat with my Bose noise canceling headphones on and ball hat firmly pulled down to block out the glaring sun. I’m on my way yes I’m on my way to yet another conference. I glance down at the PDF agenda that I downloaded a week or two back and reread the times and topics that I have mentally highlighted interrupted now by the screaming kid two aisles back and over from me. Hey, I had little kids too but after an hour of constant screaming you would think that little miss precious would just shut the fuck up. Two hours left in the flight and I just have to take a piss no matter what so I store all my stuff and make a move. Locking the door and balancing myself with my head and making sure I touch nothing. Ironically a bit of white noise quiet and relief and I am refreshed and ready to go. Getting ready to touch down I check my phone for any emails phone calls and the time change. I am not worried about being busted for having my phone on because if you are thirty-five and under it is a god given right to never turn your phone off no matter what the man’s rules are. I am not in that demographic and may be the man myself but hey fuck the man and his rules anyway. I hit the Uber app on my phone and head for the exit.

Where in the hell is that Uber car at damn it? I have been standing here for at least five minutes and my phone needs a charge. How much longer do I have to hang here with the masses? Oh hey there it is my nice clean black air-conditioned Lincoln Town Car. Out jumps the driver all suited up and smiling. I climb in grab a bottle of water and plug-in my phone for a charge on the way to the hotel. The driver must feel the need for friendly pleasant small talk and asks about my flight my time in his fair city and my reason for the trip. I make nice and make sure to hit the twenty percent tip button on Uber and oh yea give him a five-star rating because he deserved it. I am big time that way. Arriving at the hotel I try to figure where I am again. Maybe one of the exotic locales of New Orleans San Diego Orlando Dallas Phoenix. They really do all look the same from inside a hotel conference room.

Waiting of course forever at the front desk I wonder if it is not easier to get thru the Iraq border. My guess is that it’s a push. Yes young lady here is my first-born my ID and my credit cards that you will hit for two hundred and fifty dollars and hold for a week just in case I need a bag of chips from the snack tray. Stepping into the elevator and I am greeted by a smiling bald-headed gentleman that wants my life story between the lobby and the thirty-seventh floor. He must be Canadian. Ah finally to the room and three minutes of cussing and sliding in and out and in and out the card key. Finally it works and I am greeted with the distinct smell of cleaning chemicals and carpet.I spread out the curtains to get that classic view of you guessed it the hotel air-conditioning units. It never fails. I then hit the bed because damn does my back hurt. Waterboarding may be the hot and trendy torture technique but my vote is for a five-hour flight with Seth the teacher/actor and his  “show business” stories as a strong number two. A quick look at the clock and according to my body clock it’s time for some kind of food. I push the button for the lobby and head down to the hotel bar. Two beers Malibu chicken sandwich and a Sportscenter later I pay the forty five dollar tab tip included and head back up to get some sleep.

Blue gray with black and or the blue gray with the tie my wife bought me for Christmas? Solid choices and of course the brown shoes. Let’s see wallet computer phone phone charger Tic Tacs glasses printed agenda in case I can’t pull the app up computer case over my shoulder and I am ready to go. Sticky buns coffee some form of meat product passing itself off as a sausage and runny scrambled eggs.  Ah yes breakfast of champions. Pulling out my computer and checking for the conference/hotel wi-fi. Damn no luck. Well I guess I will have to ask at the registration desk.

Looking thru the hundreds of name tags to find mine and I notice a few familiar names and make a mental note to try to find those people and see what’s new in their lives. I still can’t figure out why they always hand me twenty pounds of conference swag to carry around for the whole day. I just have to take this coffee holder back home and add it to our collection of hundreds. How can I live without it? Ooooo a pen. Wow what a novel idea it even has a logo on it. Genius marketing. Where in the hell is the room for the opening keynote?

I stroll on in and see a few people milling around. Several have taken a seat in the back on the aisle and have their heads buried in their phones. I always wonder why this is a pattern at every conference I attend. Is it to make a quick get a way? Is it to be able to dash out to the hall when that billion dollar call comes in that only they can take? They really must be important. Maybe they just don’t want to be near any people which makes complete sense. The lights dim and the big screen on stage lights up. Who is it? Who will take the stage? What a shock it’s this years ass kissing volunteer president.He launches into the generic blah how great it is to blah how lucky we all are blah how great of an organisation blah what a great turnout blah how special we as individuals blah what a fantastic paid out the ass staff blah it’s going to be the greatest ever blah let’s kick this thing off with a bang blah oh and without out the full unselfish support of my amazing blah please stand up honey blah. Finally we are released to go our separate ways. Off to my first session.

I grab a bottle of water and settle in for what I hope is an informative educational hour of my life. Right off the bat the presenter is playing with his computer and projector trying to get the right focus. He asks they always ask “how does it look from out there?” I don’t know asshole why did you not do this an hour before everyone sat down?  He then starts right into his bio. He went to college x in the 60/70’s which makes me automatically assume he is a dinosaur. Wait it gets better he shows off all of the letters attached to his name. You know the three-day classes type designation. Is it just a generational thing or do the old geezers have to show everything they have ever done including their boy scout merit badge for bird watching? He then pops up the Powerpoint Mind Map. Oh No Holy Shit this is going to be an hour of this guys mind and how it relates to…….nothing. Ooooo wait he has handouts and work sheets so that I can write down the big takeaways. How about sending them to me in an email and save us all a lot of time and hot air? A quick scan around the room and there are actually a couple of tables trying and paying attention. Good for them. Another quick scan and I am guessing that no one in this room in under thirty-five. I can guarantee that ninety percent are sixty plus without even counting. Always be learning. I still have not figured out what unless bitching about the younger generation and how fucked up things in this business are. Hey old man take some responsibility. You have been on the planet and in the business for a hell of a long time. You fucked it up. Look in the mirror. It’s you. Session is finally over.

Into the hallway for the absolute must can’t function without phone check along with everybody and I mean everybody else at the conference. Of course I have the luck of standing next to the most important person on the planet. He talks loud. He prances back and forth like no one else exists probably because in his mind no one else does. I’m feeling a little pissy this morning so just for fun I stand up right next to him almost in his face and just look in his eyes. He looks back at me like I am an alien his cleaning service at home or just some asshole that thinks he owns the world. I need some more water. There are always tables set up with water ice soft drinks and coffee all day long outside most session rooms. Nice touch. Next session.

I wander in to what is supposed to be the must attend cutting edge “tech session” and grab a seat close to the front. There seems to be a panel of about five people and glancing at my agenda it looks like all of them are going to highlight some technology that they think is relevant to the audience. Speaking of which I glance around and although a little sparse there are a few attentive people up front. The rest of the audience seems uninterested or disconnected (no pun intended) spending most of the time with their heads buried in the phone checking spam emails like they actually mean something. I am still amazed at the amount of people with yellow legal pads and a pocket full of pens. Where do they find that stuff ? Is it a black market item now? It has to be.The session starts and as the presenters run thru the apps and platforms there are actually some interesting and insightful questions. I am a little surprised. Some of the old geezers do have a little tech game and are not afraid to use it. Refreshing. All in all an informative and well thought out session. Someone asks me if I ever smile. I said” only when I’m happy.”  I must have been concentrating and paying too much attention. It must be lunch time by now.

Ah the smell of the rubber chicken with mashed potatoes and asparagus. Don’t forget the brownie. Where is the water station? All the way across the room of course. I see a spot available and ask if it is open and take a seat. The obligatory introductions out of the way we settle in for small talk. Of course now the guy next to me starts bitching about there not being a Vegan option. Hey asshole eat the salad and quit being such a condescending food snob prick. If you lived in a third world country you be chasing fucking rats for food and be damn glad to get that! I almost say something but the PC do not be a dick side of me prevails. The food is free and plentiful so why bitch. Hint to you mister Vegan you are going to die at some point just like all the rest of us. Start to grasp that with your next quinoa salad. Someone stands up at the rostrum and gets the attention of the audience to quite down and introduce the speaker.

Oh No! It’s an ex football player. Shit how do I always get caught at these things. Was the free chicken such a big draw that I mentally disassociated myself away from the next forty-five minutes of torment? The metaphors run rampant. The self- aggrandising is just blatant and the fact that this guy gets paid for this is pathetic. Question. How does the fact that you hit the genetic gene pool put on a padded uniform and ran up and down a grassy field to catch a ball have any relevance to me here and now today? Wait I know it’s the revolutionary cover two defense that I think of every day I walk into a client’s office that will pull me thru that meeting and get me the deal. Now I see it! Shit that’s it. I have been missing it all the time. Now there is the value. Damn I must thank the conference organisers for that earth shattering game changing business tip. Where is the water station again?

Next session is about the new and emerging world markets. Wow guess what China is a new and emerging market. Who knew. Yes they have fifty kabillion people who all want stuff the Americans already have. Which means we need to rush over there and do the same stupid shit we do here but for an even bigger market. Big take away from the presenter. “if your children do not learn to speak Mandarin kill them now.” Thinking of dinner plans already.

Last session is a mandatory session that let’s me keep my “membership” up to date. This is too boring to even try to stay awake. It seems the other session attendees think the same as I see a lot of faces lit up by phones and computers. Sign in and sign out to get credit just like in third grade appropriate since the session content is from the year I was in third grade. Thinking of dinner again but first.

The Young Professionals networking mixer. Now we are talking. Drinks finger food and “young talent.” I always try to show up and you know “mix.” I feel it is my duty as a member and mentor. The young people in this business need to get a little help acquiring the necessary skills. They need to learn how to drink in a professional enviroment. They need to learn how to look at the “young talent” without getting caught. They need to learn how to make small talk and laugh while looking down the top of the “young talent.” They need to learn to be suggestive yet look totally innocent while discussing “business.” They need to realize that a Facebook connection does not necessarily lead to the another kind of connection. I enjoy playing it forward with the younger crowd plus I get to play one of my favorite games “Are They Real Or Not” endless hours of fun for all. Off to dinner.

Lobster Lobster Lobster. What is a good wine with lobster again? Hell I’m not paying so why do I care. A shared Uber car ride and I am now sitting at a four star restaurant networking my way thru five-course meal. As I eat things I am not even sure are edible but supposed to be to die for I am asked the same questions over and over again. “Where should we be in one year?” “What technologies are we not using that we need to take a serious look at?” ” What are the three companies we should look to partner with?” “What do you think of our digital strategy?” “How is our brand perceived in the marketplace?” ” How do we attract new talent?” ” How can we better engage our membership?” All these questions and all I can concentrate on is the desert. Yes I am getting a free meal and should pony up some answers and usually do. I do need to remember my “unpaid volunteer” status. The people sitting with me at the table get paid very well to run this entire thing. They always seem to be holding back super secrets at least in their mind. Getting tired.

Two whole days of fun and education ahead of me. I lay down in bed with Sportscenter on thinking about the rest of the conference. Will this one be any different from the one I attended two years ago? Will it be any different two years from now? Will the audience/attendees basically be the same people? What would make it so amazing and cutting edge that I just couldn’t wait to attend? Do I just do this to get face time and build my network? Do I really get deals from this conference? I paid how much to get here and attend the conference? I am getting what value again?

Cant’t wait for the next two days !

Off To Your Next Conference? A Cautionary Tale.

Duke Long


  • Duke, I always get an uncomfortable chuckle from your writings because it’s the truth.

    Loved this little nugget:

    “I am still amazed at the amount of people with yellow legal pads and a pocket full of pens. Where do they find that stuff ? Is it a black market item now? “

  • Another Beauty Duke. This will be in my next edition of Cirex News & Views! Love the “act as if” and “are they for real?” And of course they screaming kid who’s parents are powerless to stop them from annoying everyone.

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