Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How to hold a successful conference

The whole memory performance went very well, except for one little thing. The little thing in question was the zip on my trousers, which seems to have lost the ability to stay closed. I didn't notice this problem until after I'd stood up in front of sixty people and memorised a pack of cards, so I have no idea exactly what kind of display I put on for them. Nobody mentioned seeing anything out of the ordinary, but perhaps they were all being polite. I did have to spend the rest of the day discreetly adjusting myself at regular intervals. This will teach me not to buy cheap work trousers. Or, possibly, not to buy 34-inch waists when I know perfectly well I can't fit into them any more.

Anyway, this reminds me of my theory of how to organise a good conference/course/official gathering of any kind. I've noticed over the years that there is always a set pattern when the event takes a break for tea and biscuits. Everybody, without exception, goes for a jammy dodger. Only when all the jammy dodgers are gone does anybody take a different kind of biscuit, usually with a cheerful grumble about how the jammy dodgers are always the first to go. The small proportion of attendees who managed to get a jammy dodger spend the rest of the conference in a happy frame of mind, whereas all the others leave in the evening feeling vaguely dissatisfied but not quite able to put their finger on why.

You might think that the solution would be to provide more jammy dodgers, but in fact that isn't the case. A large part of the satisfaction factor is knowing that you got one of the good biscuits, while your peers who weren't quite as fast as you had to make do with a garibaldi or, if they were really really slow, a shortbread. The actual key to a successful conference which everybody leaves feeling fulfilled is to hold numerous tea-breaks and strategically position the seats and the biscuits so that everybody attending gets exactly one jammy dodger during the course of the day. The feeling of 'yay, I got one' outweighs the feeling of 'aw, I didn't get one' by at least five to one, so a maximum of four tea-breaks should be provided.

This didn't apply to today's conference, as all the biscuits on offer were equally nasty, and yet everybody still seemed to have a good time. Must have been the excellent lunch.

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