February 11th, 2011
01:06 PM GMT
There has been much criticism in South Africa in the past few months around a “youth conference,” which apparently cost millions of dollars to host.
There has been a great sense of indignation in the media about the amount of money spent on what was seen as just a “talk fest.”
Whether you like it or not, conferences are a reality of modern business life. From the big-hitting World Economic Forum in Davos to the small-town gathering of local municipal players, for example, conferences are ubiquitous events.
However, South Africans are particularly fond of putting on large meetings to talk things through. Called anything from a summit to an "indaba" or a "legotla," they are encouraged as a very African way of dealing with issues.
“All stakeholders must be consulted,” has become a well-worn phrase. Many see this as similar to old, traditional methods of leadership, when chiefs sat down under a tree and talked through a problem until everyone agreed on a solution.
Others just say the proliferation of conferences is time consuming, expensive and an unnecessary extravagance.
Over the years of reporting from Africa, I have had to suffer through many conferences, meetings and summits. More often than not, I have watched delegates sleep, look disinterested or not even turn up at all. Other times, I have been amused at how the participants seem to attack the steaming troughs of catered food at lunchtime with far more vigor than they were dealing with the discussion topics.
That said, on some occasions I have been surprised at how useful the meeting has been for some people, where they have learnt something new, found an alternative way of thinking and have been introduced to interesting people.
In the public or private sectors, though, there is the perception that many business or political leaders spend too much time over-talking or over-consulting on an issue instead of actually making decisions or spending the money allocated in budgets.
What is your experience of conferences? Are they a nothingness of aimless chatter, benign networking and a spectacular waste of money? Or are they useful?
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