Beki Grinter

Guide to Good Conferencemanship

In discipline, HCI, research on April 15, 2010 at 6:34 pm

As CHI 2010 comes to a close it’s time to reflect on good conferencemanship. What’s that? Well let me tell you. (Please read with humour, of course good humour is based on truth).

Talks. Well of course, lots has been said about giving good conference talks. I refer the reader to the following concise post. Of course in this day and age, if you can throw out some statements that are easy for people to tweet in 140 characters, you’ll probably also get some additional traction (which was a link to the #chi2010 stream on twitter) and end up on Ed Chi’s ACM blog. Be engaging is something that’s central, its not just enough to deliver your point, you have to make your point… and of course your speaker notes are a good way remind yourself to be engaging. Don’t leave it to chance. (This was a link to a tweet about someone’s CHI talk in which the speaker presentation notes contained a reminder to the speaker to smile at the audience during the talk).

But there’s more to conferences than giving talks.

There’s also asking questions at other people’s talks. There is some debate, not much (a link to a twitter discussion), but some, about whether you should explicitly refer to your rejected CHI paper, or just give the premise of the paper as your question implicitly. I think in the next few years that ACM SigCHI should develop a policy on this.

For the rest of us, establishing a complex backchannel that includes the conference name and room is essential. It allows us to share information about the talks, about the continued use of comic sans and other nasty fonts, and so forth. Also good for knowing when Ben Shneiderman beats us up (also tweeted and retweeted).

And then there’s what happens when you’re not in sessions.

My pet peeve. At front of line at open bar talking to bar tender trying to decide whether you should have a mixed drink you’ve never tried before, while the queue behind continues to grow. While I appreciate your empirical sensibilities, there are several reasons why this is problematic. First, I’m among the many others patiently waiting for my turn. Second, open bars are probably not a place where you want to experiment with new to you beverages. Why? Well I think you probably want slightly better quality spirits than are typically found at open bars (no offense to open bars). Third, we’re waiting. Good conferencemanship is a swift transaction and move on especially if the open bar is only open for a while.

And while we’re on the topic of beverages. It’s important to always leave enough money for the inevitable group check that emerges at the bar each evening. Good conferencemanship involves being able to pay the bill. Either that, or not being the last person left holding the ridiculously large tab. And a tip, never tell anyone what room you are in, since one solution to the large tab problem is to assign it to the room number of a person who is not there. (What, you haven’t heard that one before?)

We all know that the conference takes place in the hallways and corridors outside the sessions as much as it takes place within the sessions. Some suggestions for good conferencemanship include not holding those aspects of the conference: in front of the stairs or escalator. Those are thoroughfares that allow attendees to move from one place to another. Assuming they are not blocked by people discussing a paper or a potential collaboration, they work very well. Another place to avoid that discussion is around the coffee. Sessions are 1.5 hours. After that length of time, we need coffee, or tea, or whatever they’re willing to share with us.

A place that’s great to have discussions is in the women’s bathrooms. I can’t speak to the men’s but I enjoy covertly overhearing what people really thought about that last paper in that particular session…

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  1. what is a wussy correlational study?

    like, one where you don’t manipulate any variables and just troll around for something interesting?

    or are they all wussy?

  2. I wasn’t there and some of the tweets said you needed more than the 140 to explain….

  3. Hah, now I really feel like I was there 🙂 Thanks for the tweets and the humor, too.

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