It’s time for your annual professional conference again, and although you’ve been attending for several consecutive years, it’s a distinct possibility that you’ve blocked out the perplexing phases of this intense weekend of learning and personal growth. While many attendees remain entirely unconscious of this phenomenon, there are five clearly documented stages of conference attendance.
You enthusiastically purchase your conference tickets, only briefly cringing at the financial burden of registration, hotel stay, parking, and food. It will totally be worth it—this is your chance to finally get where you want to be professionally! It’s almost as if the breakout sessions were designed with you and your precise ambitions in mind! The presenters and keynote speakers are nothing short of inspiring. There is no doubt in your mind that you will gain meaningful knowledge and skills, meet your career idols, and network like a motherfucker. You will own this conference.
About halfway through your first concurrent session, you begin to doubt the credentials of the panel of “experts” presenting. These yahoos are teaching you how to climb the career ladder? Seems more like they’re just trying to impress each other with their cleverness. In fact, you could probably do a better job leading this session yourself. Where the hell did they find these people? You silently dare them to teach you something that you don’t already know. And could these seats be more uncomfortable? Where did they come from—a middle school gymnasium? How can they possibly expect you to sit in this freezing cold room for 90 whole minutes? During this phase, it is also regrettably announced that David Sedaris has fallen ill and will be unable to speak this evening; in his place, his second cousin will be speaking about her recent spiritual transformation.
Your irritation has now grown to include not only the session presenters, but also the keynote speakers and most vexingly, the brain-dead narcissists who can’t wait to grab the mic during the Q&A portion of the presentation. “I’d like to share a short story about my recent award,” the first enthusiastic participant announces. Oh, Gawd. While it is true that your eyes briefly filled with tears during the poignant testimony of a poet whose battle with cancer and death of her dog only served to increase her dedication to her craft, both your compassion and interest have officially dried up. When the woman next to you shuffles up to the microphone and begins, “This has been a really tough year for me,” you audibly snort. “I wonder if you’re familiar with my own work, “Bad Combover Guy begins confidently. “I actually just wrote a book about this, and I’d be happy to share some tips with you.” Your ass has fallen asleep by the time it becomes clear that there are, in fact, no actual questions to be answered. During this phase of your conference attendance, you scrawl the following angry directive in your overpriced notebook: “STFU, Q&A people.”
Not only do you and your cohorts begin gossiping rudely during the keynote speaker’s emotionally revealing lunch presentation, you begin to blow off sessions to instead hit the hotel bar. Akin to surly anti-establishment adolescents sitting at the back of the class trip tour bus, conscientiously objecting to the activities suggested by the small-minded chaperones, you conclude that your own ideas, skills, and overall character are far superior to the individuals chosen by the conference planners. You’ve got better things to do with your time. “You wanna get out of here?” you whisper gleefully to the woman seated next to you whose eyes have glazed over.
Though you took copious notes in spite of your disdain for the quality of the information being presented, not once do you glance at your handouts or files upon returning home. In fact, you integrate approximately 2% of the knowledge absorbed at the conference into your career practice. Your overstuffed notebook full of all the tips, strategies, and techniques designed to push you to the “next phase” of your professional life lies untouched for the next five years, until your husband throws it away.
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