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Business conference circuit haunted by fantasists and opportunists

You might be forgiven for thinking I miss this world of grog, free gifts and incidental “learnings” (yuk). But, you can keep all these trappings and the fancy hotels if it means I never again have to sit through a keynote from some highly paid speaker peddling not only complete and utter nonsense, but nonsense so disconnected from any supporting evidence it has foundations as stable as a Collaroy beachside home during a southerly swell.

Credit:Kerrie Leishman

Unlike scientific conferences, the professional and business conference circuit was, and probably would still be COVID-permitting, overpopulated with people whose “insights” are no more than slickly delivered folklore, but folklore than has been handed down by fantasists to opportunists and sold for an eye-watering fee to conference organisers.

Best not to worry too much about the message as long the speaker looks good, is entertaining, panders to the audiences prejudices and most of all, doesn’t encourage them to think too deeply. Usually there is a book being promoted.

In the most egregious example of this, literally seconds after one “internationally” renowned speaker had finished their folksy rubbish, all the doors at the back of the packed auditorium were flung open to reveal 20 staff with credit card machines at the ready and a pile of pre-signed books.

There is a dark side to this. In the face of a master salesperson’s pitch and no dissenting voices, ideas are taken back and implemented in the workplace. For instance, there has been a recent slew of evidence-based papers and books finally pointing out the problems with the idea of generational differences, the inherent ageism contained in the premise and the lack of almost all meaningful differences between generations.

Yet these talks were almost obligatory at conferences for 20 years or more. As for the futurists, one can only hope their future is as limited as their predictions.

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If and when conferences in person reappear, it would be nice if organisers committed to speakers with verifiable evidence for their claims, or be honest and publish a disclaimer the talk is for entertainment only and should not be taken seriously. Building on shifting sands rarely ends well. But sadly, the builder is often long gone with a fat cheque before everything falls into the sea.

Jim Bright, FAPS is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU and owns Bright and Associates, a Career Management Consultancy. Email to opinion@jimbright.com. Follow him on Twitter @DrJimBright

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