If you asked me as a teenager whether I would some day run conferences around the world I would have laughed at the idea, if I could summon the confidence to give any answer at all. That shy awkward lad only wanted technical roles that would keep him away from the limelight. However, it was in my late teens that I learned the fundamentals of organizing conferences because they overlap with the fundamentals of arranging a house party. House parties represent a thrilling but frightening stage in the evolution of a teenager. You worry about not being invited. You worry that you will be invited to a friend’s party but not know anybody else there. You worry that you will arrive too early, or too late, or that nobody will speak to you. When you hold a party you worry it will clash with another party. You compare the party at your house with a previous party at somebody else’s house and worry that everybody thinks your party is inferior. But amidst all the worry, you also learn about people, and if you can learn about people, you can learn how to run a conference.
When you think rationally about the reasons you fear parties then you can make sure nobody has reason to fear your parties. The greatest fear of any partygoer is that they will be alone and nobody will speak to them. The host will typically know more people than anyone else, so it is up to the host to encourage everyone to speak to one another. A good host will make introductions, and disrupt familiar cliques by throwing somebody new into their midst. There has to be food and drink, but guests do not demand much from the cuisine if they are thoroughly enjoying the conversation. Some go to a party to see old friends, others hope to meet new friends, so strive to give them both. There needs to be comfort, which means enough chairs, and some like to dance, which means space and music. However, the decor is largely irrelevant if people enjoy themselves. If most of a party was spent admiring the view or a painting that hangs on the wall then it must have been a bad party. A good party is spent looking at people’s faces.
The conferences of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG) are associated with work, and visualizing work is not like visualizing a party. This can be a mistake. Nobody forms a strong emotional bond to new software that analyzes such-and-such, or to a new method for evaluating this-and-that. Human beings are social animals. We go to conferences to get help with work. What name do we give to somebody who helps us? We generally call them a friend. Conferences are like parties because they are both opportunities to make new friends and strengthen existing friendships. It is not wrong to do this whilst also hoping to further your career. Friends can help all aspects of our lives, and we have no less need of help when at work. I feel sorry for professionals who only consider work to be a battleground where they must compete to get ahead, who only seek to learn when they can add a formal qualification to their CV, and who only perform the tasks specified in their job description. I never had a job description that instructed me to make friends, but I always did a better job because of the friends who gave me help and advice.
The poet Maya Angelou observed that people will forget what you said and what you did, but they never forget how you made them feel. The first thing you remember about a person is the feelings you have towards them. The next thing you remember is their face. We have yet to make devices to record feelings, but there is a reason why every phone is also now a camera. Without faces there would be no Hollywood and no Bollywood. Without faces there would be no YouTube. And if you need more examples, just consider how Facebook got its name. People like faces because people like people, though a long period of isolation may mean the shyer members of our community no longer associate large gatherings with pleasure. The lockdowns in Australia, New Zealand and East Asia have been especially severe, so our team contemplated how to reawaken dormant feelings in advance of our next conference, RAG Sydney. The best way was to show photographs taken at RAG conferences both before and since the pandemic. We created a video and called it: “The Many Faces of RAG”. Please take a look, and turn up the sound to enjoy the accompanying music.
RAG Sydney will be held in the heart of downtown Sydney, Australia, on October 19 and 20. Employees of comms providers and digital service providers are welcome to attend free of charge so long as they register in advance with their work email address. For more information, please visit the conference webpage.