We talk quite a lot about the problem of the multitude of “happy path” presentations at conferences. We also know that a few (very) conferences do have more realistic presentations that allow the attendees to hear about the problems that were encountered, as well. This was a topic at yesterday’s lunch with a customer

Our discussion revolved around the different conferences we’d all attended and which ones had realistic talks. For example, during the period where ELNs (electronic laboratory notebooks) were in their infancy, they were also a popular topic in past years, yet most presentations gave glowing reviews of how the products had matured and were successfully implemented. Each year, our industry would fail to see any real progress toward these implementations. And also, each year, we’d see the same presentations given as the year before claiming that things really WERE mature, now, and the presenter might indicate that they ‘really, really meant it, this time” and then we’d see it the following year and the year after that and so on.

Meanwhile, at some other conferences, one or two of the companies that went into these early implementations apparently spoke honestly about how they’d jumped-in too soon, and outlined the problems they ran into. These are the presentations that allowed us to learn how to overcome those issues and, today, there’s a thriving ELN industry. The other presentations, the overly-glowing ones, were given by people who wanted to charge people to experiment on them (so they could then say they had experience doing this, even if it wasn’t “positive” experience, or given by people trying to promote their own careers.

These days, while some things have matured to the point where they’re able to be successfully implemented, there are still plenty of opportunities for those “happy path” presentations that lull attendees into a false sense of security of whatever it is the presentation is about. And, along with that, many of the conferences that we spoke about as “too happy path” and those that are more realistic, I realized that most of those conferences still exist and are still basically in the same categories they used to be in.

Thus, ask around to people you know about conferences and how realistic the presenters are. Ask them what they got from the conferences they recommend and ask them to be specific. While those “happy path” presentations are good for giving you an idea of the nuts-and-bots of how to get started with something they’re not going to be helpful when you go to plan your project risks or when you actually run into problems.

Here are a few tips to identify people who are either holding back on the problems their project ran into or who probably weren’t involved-enough to know what they’re talking about, as a few people giving these presentations like to speak on these issues to appear to be experts:
1. Person says “I” or “me” constantly. They’re possibly on an ego trip or trying to boost their career in some way.
2. They don’t mention anything less than positive and, upon questioning, refuse to admit there was anything negative.
3. They appear to be trying to sell you on the idea. Sometimes, it’s because they’re literally selling what they’re presenting (such as a product or services). Other times, and I know this seems hard to believe, but people might present things that they want to do and, by encouraging others to do it, they can then point to the others to convince their management that “others are doing it so we should, too.”

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

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