One of the many benefits that you receive from attending conferences is that you can be exposed to ideas and experiences that can have a significant impact on the way that you live your life or carry-out your work. Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the hundreds of events that I’ve attended either as an organiser or as a delegate. Sometimes a speaker can re-confirm your own values and beliefs; on other occasions they can provide answers to questions that you’ve been thinking about for a long time.
About 15 years ago, I was invited to attend a talk by the recently retired General Schwarzkopf who led American troops during the first Gulf War in the early 1990s. When he started talking about decision-making, I assumed that due to his profession and recent experience he would have a very clear and definite view on how decisions should be made. Much to my surprise, he said that if you can’t decide between two viable alternatives, then it would be highly likely that either course of action would be suitable. His view was that it was more important to make a decision and then to make it work than dither and waste time trying to decide the better of the two options.
Also in the 1990s, I was fortunate enough to attend an incentive conference in Austria. The social highlight was a very formal ball in a palace. The architecture was ornate, the service extremely professional and the entertainment quite extraordinary. First, principal dancers from the national ballet performed and then members of the Vienna State Opera burst into song. Surrounded by such beauty and tradition, I thought to myself whimsically; when you have Pavarotti you don’t need a smoke machine. This experience influenced the way that I’ve produced our company’s social and ceremonial events ever since. If you can get the two or three basic elements of any event right, you can dispense with the rest.
Finally, in 2009, three months before a national conference, the art gallery that had been booked for the dinner was suddenly unavailable due to the artists’ requesting a longer time to set-up their contemporary displays. The local convention bureau suggested that we move to a cathedral. My first response was to assume that the location might dampen the normally exuberant atmosphere but after I’d visited the building, I changed my mind. Remembering Vienna, we were able to remove the pews from the nave, erect tables in a refectory or Hogwarts style, install lots of free-standing candelabra, arrange for the bell-ringers to greet guests, invite the organist to play secular music during pre-dinner drinks and book choirs and soloists to sing without microphones. Needless to say, the evening was a huge success.