Presenters made the same mistakes they always do. Plenary speakers couldn’t finish on time. Some of them help their microphones too far away from their mouths and made it difficult it hear them. Speakers let attendees take over presentations (hostile takeovers) which left other attendees to grumble under their breath about letting the presenter make their point. There were thousands of wordy PowerPoint slides to be seen (and heard, since they were mostly read verbatim by the speaker), and promises were made in presentation abstracts but only a few were kept.
Attendees also exhibited a myriad of poor behavior. In addition to the “hostile takeovers” mentioned above, phones rang left and right. I sat next to a lady whose phone went off three times in the same presentation and she never bothered to set it to vibrate. Attendees could not seem to show up on time to presentations and were constantly opening doors to let in noise from the hallway and then had to climb over the people already there while saying “sorry” and “excuse me” in a stage whisper that was even more disturbing. Video recording of presentations took place even after an announcement specifically requesting this not happen. And finally, there was “that guy” at registration. The registration desk on the first morning of a conference is always a busy, hectic place and the presenters registration desk is no different. When I arrived, I let two ladies cut in front of me and received the “thank you and sorry about them” look from the registration person. When it was my turn, I collected my materials and swag bag. The man in front of me was not as happy. He wanted the “good bag”! It took the registration people several minutes to convince him that all of the bags were the same. He finally accepted this and then demanded his presenters’ perfume. It took several more minutes to understand that he wanted the box which contained the presenters’ gift, a digital clock, which came in a rectangular, white, cardboard box. Needless to say, this man and his behavior became the talk of the conference and asking for the presenters’ perfume became a running joke.
There were some good things as well. The conference was well organized and well run. From the attention to detail in the call for papers to the on-site registration, the organizers did a great job. They were very friendly and helpful too. I had nice chats with one of the conference co-chairs and the program chair even though they were very busy and stressed out trying to put on a great event. Scott Thornbury’s plenary had not only a clear theme, but excellent takeaways and his time management was perfect. Several concurrent presenters smiled while speaking and looked like they actually enjoyed being there. There were a few visual slides to break up the monotony of text-filed slides. Hat tips were also nice. Referring to a previous speaker and what they said was nice to see and experience. The networking opportunities were plentiful. It was easy to chat with people between sessions and in the break areas. Talking to students who attended the conference was also a highlight. They seemed to enjoy interacting with teachers in a less formal environment.
On the last day, I found myself chatting with some female students from a university in the Emirates. They had attended my presentation and we had chatted at the coffee area another time. As the conference was wrapping up and we were saying goodbye I reached out to shake hands. The first student’s arm did not move but her eyes widened noticeably. “Oh, I’m sorry”, I muttered. She quickly replied, “I can’t do that, but I’d like to take a picture with you.” Learning what was acceptable and what was not in that part of the world was an eye-opening experience. While some of the differences were quite surprising, it was comforting to discover that hotels still gauge you for basic services, subways are often busy and crowded, and conference presenters make basic mistakes, no matter where you are in the world.
You can read a more upbeat assessment on the merits of attending international conferences that I wrote here.