Challenging the traditional conference model

28 08 2015

keeping-the-audience-awakeAn interesting take on conference culture by Diogo Veríssimo (mastermind behind I Fucking Love Biodiversity).

Just a few weeks back, more than 2000 conservationists got together in Montpellier, France, for the 27th International Congress on Conservation Biology (ICCB). I have been attending these conferences since 2008, and once again had a blast. Yet as I went through the usual talks, posters, work meetings, and this and that social, I could not help but feel that the traditional conference model was hindering, not helping me, maximise my benefits.

In my experience of conservation conferences, the content is largely delivered via a one-way channel, and attendees listen passively until the chance for a question or two comes up at the end. If time allows, that is, and it rarely does. Given the huge costs (and the footprint) of these events, how can we maximise the outcomes of these meetings?

Let’s look first at what is currently the backbone of most conferences anywhere: the oral presentation. Currently, the gold standard for the vast majority of ICCB presenters is the 15-min presentation, and those who are denied that chance often say they have been “downgraded”. I find this unfortunate.

My biggest criticisms of our current approach to content management during a conference is that it leaves the discussion to happen informally and without the benefit of the collective knowledge that comes together at these meetings. Many conservationists are keen to avoid long-winded lectures in their classrooms, but when we come together, those concerns seem to go out the window. The Q&A after a talk should be the most important part of a session for either the presenter (expert feedback can save a lot of time and resources) and the audience (who otherwise cannot focus on what they think is important).

Giving sessions enough Q&A time, which I argue would have to be as long as the time given to presentations, would imply having fewer presentations — unless we have shorter presentations. The ICCB already has the speed presentation, a format that lasts just 5 minutes. Why not make that the default? Yes, presenting your content effectively in 5 minutes is an acquired skill, but not much different in kind from writing an abstract to a paper. Having presented in both traditional and speed format, I am convinced presentations strongly suffer from the law of diminishing returns, meaning the difference from the audience point of view ends up being small. This is particularly true if fewer talks means more time for the audience to interact and ask about the things in which they are interested, rather than what the presenter thinks they should learn. Read the rest of this entry »





How to make the most of a conference

5 09 2013

conferenceHaving just attended two major international conferences back-to-back (ICCB 2013 in Baltimore, USA and INTECOL 2013 in London, UK), I thought it might be a good idea to proffer some advice for those who are relatively new to the conference carousel. Having attended some larger number raised to the power of another conferences since I started this science gig, I think I’ve figured out a few definitely do-s, and positively don’t-s.

Some might argue that the scientific conference is a thing of the past. Now with super-fast internet, Twitter, open-access, Skype and video conference calls, why would we need to travel half way around the planet to sit day after day in some stuffy room to listen to some boring snippets of half-finished research? Why indeed would I get jet-lagged, spend a sizeable chunk of my research grant and emit a bucket-load of carbon just to listen to some boring old farts tell me the same thing they’ve been doing for the last 20 years?

If that were all conferences were about, I would never attend another for the rest of my career. Thankfully, that’s not why we go.

Yes, it’s easy to go online these days and see what your colleagues are up to (and if they don’t have a good online profile, they almost don’t exist these days). It’s also easier and easier to download important papers from almost anyone and in almost any journal. So clearly conferences are not primarily about finding out what research is being done; in fact, I argue that that’s not their role at all.

The most important aspect of a conference are the social events. Yes, the social events.

That might sound like a joke, but I’m dreadfully serious. Read the rest of this entry »





Supercharge Your Science V.2

24 11 2011

I suspect a lot of ConservationBytes.com readers will be attending the imminent 25th International Congress for Conservation Biology to be held in Auckland from 5-9 December 2011 (it was to be held in Christchurch, but the venue was changed after that city fell down). I’ve now been to 3 previous ICCBs myself, and it should prove to be a good, informative (and fun) meeting.

I’ll be giving a talk or two, as will some of my students and postdocs, but I’m not spruiking those here (but you’re all invited, of course).

The main reason for this short post today is to advertise for Version 2 of our (i.e., Bill Laurance and me) popular ‘Supercharge Your Science‘ workshop. Yes, the organising committee of the ICCB decided it was a good idea to accept our application to repeat our previously successful series of presentations extolling the virtues of positive and controlled media interactions, social media and good writing techniques for ‘supercharging’ the impact of one’s science. You can read more about the content of this workshop here and here.

The description of the workshop (to be held from 19.00 – 21.00 on 6 December in the SkyCity venue) on the ICCB website is: Read the rest of this entry »