Conferences can be lots of fun, but they can also be, well, frankly mortifying. There are so many opportunities for something to go wrong in front of hundreds of your co-workers. Here are some of the most embarrassing occurrences that can happen to you at a conference:
Technical difficulties during your presentation
You've practised your presentation, you've updated your slides, you've picked out your smartest outfit, and you've read up on all the latest journal articles in your niche area. You're ready to give your presentation, and you're feeling good. The audience arrives and settles in, and there's even a good turnout for your talk. You go out on stage, push back the adrenaline, and introduce yourself. You go to show your first slide and... nothing. Is the laptop not working? Is it there a problem with the projector? Is your laser pointer not communicating? The audience is staring at you. Now you get to play the fun game of 'identify and fix the technical problem while under intense observation and extreme time pressure'. You really, really wish you'd tested out your slides beforehand.
When you arrive late to a talk and have to sit on the floor
You've got your map in hand and you've been walking around this conference centre for days, surely you can find your way to the next talk with no problem, right? Nope! You inevitably get lost at some point and wander around identical-looking corridors searching in vain for the right room for what feels like hours. When you finally find the room with the talk you were looking for, the presenter started their talk ten minutes ago and the audience is already listening in rapt attention. No problem, you think, I can just slip quietly into the back. Of course, once you get into the room, you realise that every seat in the place is taken. Could you quietly leave, or would that draw even more attention? And you really wanted to hear this talk. You sigh, and sit on the floor, trying to ignore the piteous looks from those more organised attendees who managed to get here on time and snag a chair.
When you talk to someone and only later realise they're terribly famous and important
You meet a nice person at the buffet table and get to chatting. It turns out that they're interested in your field too, and they are a wealth of information and full of good ideas. In between commentary on the quality of the buffet food, you opine on the good and bad research being done on your topic, the quality of publications you've read recently, and which of the keynote speakers at this conference are speaking nonsense. Your conversational partner laughs along with you, and everything seems to be going so well. Once you say goodbye to them and go back to your table, your friend waves you over excitedly. “Don't you know who this is?” they ask. Uhh. Should you? “That was the keynote speaker! I can't believe you didn't recognise them.” Ahh. Oh dear. Perhaps some of your comments could have been more tactful, but it's too late for that now. You must remember to check name tags more carefully in the future.
When you drink too much at the conference dinner
You've made it through the first few days of the conference, and everything has gone fine. People enjoyed your talk, and you've seen a great bunch of posters. Now, it's time to relax and have some fun at the conference dinner. You arrive and are immediately handed a glass of wine by a kindly waiter. Marvellous! You chat a bit, then take your seat and are poured another glass of wine. You eat, each course interspersed with another glass of wine... and then another... and then one more to finish off dessert. By the time the meal is over, you're having a whale of a time. You're chatting with everyone at your table, on sparkling form and surely impressing all of them with your wit and insight. That's when you go to stand up, and nearly fall down immediately because your legs aren't working any more. Ahh. Perhaps that last glass of wine was a mistake. Quickly, find a friend and get them to hustle you out of there before you treat everyone to a rendition of your favourite song and dance number.
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