Why can’t academic conferences be fun?
Monday, August 10, 2015
Last week, I attended the 2015 Annual ICHRIE (International Council on Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Education) Summer Conference in Orlando, Florida. Like many other academic conferences, it was an annual event where a group of hospitality professors and graduate students get together to showcase their research and network with one another.
I began attending this kind of academic conference when I was a doctoral student. So far, I have been to more than 20 academic conferences and about 10 industrial conferences or trade shows in my academic career.
Being an academic researcher myself, however, I have to admit I feel more excited about the industrial conferences than the academic ones. This makes me wonder: Can an academic conference be fun to attend?
Possibly, but before we come up with some suggestions for planning a fun academic conference, let's try to understand the reasons why not everyone is excited about academic conferences in hospitality.
1. Researchers get little credit
Many hospitality programs give zero or little credit to research presented in conferences except for those award-winning papers. Journal publications remain as the key performance indicator.
Moreover, many top-tier academic journals refuse to review any studies that have been presented in an academic conference unless the manuscripts are revised substantially, pushing researchers to focus on journal publications rather than conference proceedings. In other disciplines where conference proceedings are as "valuable" as journal publications, such as computer sciences and information technology, researchers are still eager to present their work in academic conferences.
2. Presentations are too boring
Many academic presentations are boring, especially when they are compared with the industry leaders who excel at "storytelling" (please excuse me for being too critical to my peers). Due to the time constraint, most attendees were only allowed to present their work within 10-15 minutes, including Q&A.
Yet I have seen many attendees prepare more than 20 slides for their presentations. Moreover, they tried to include every small detail of their statistical analysis in one or two slides — just imagine you are sitting in front of a screen that shows 50-plus numbers in the font size of 14 while you are trying to follow the presenter to locate one or two specific numbers that have a significant value.
Does that sound fun to you? Probably not. Often times, I have found it more efficient to just read the actual article than listening to somebody's presentation.
3. Not enough insight given
Many academic researchers put too much value on deductive inquiries and pay little attention to their studies' business implications. Since each presenter only has about 10 minutes to present materials, the audience couldn't care less about the details of how well an advanced theory is applied in a particular study.
Rather, they tend to be more interested in the additional insights this study brings to our current knowledge, as well as the study's significant impact to the real business world, as I suggested in an earlier discussion.
4. Get out of the building
Because many academic conferences only schedule a couple of networking events inside a conference hotel, attendees might not be able to take a full advantage of what the destination has to offer. The positive impact of an attractive destination might therefore be diminished.
In this case, why would people bother to make their way to Orlando if every single event of the conference was supposed to happen inside a conference hotel? When I attended other industrial conferences, I was invited to several networking events that took place outside of the conference venue, often in local landmarks.
Do you see my point here? Then, my next question is: What are the remedies?
Will it help to provide more training in public speaking to the presenters? How about offering a variety of networking events in different venues? Can we ask our own hospitality professionals or the experts in event management to help us plan some fun activities? What do you think?
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