What’s your image of a police conference? Maybe you have been to one recently and have experienced an agenda something like this?
Conference about ‘Something Important’
Delegates arrive – and sit on tables where they know other people who they either work with or would like to work for. You don’t sit at the table at the front as the seats are reserved or are already occupied by high-ranking people in uniform or who have specialist lanyards for their ID. If someone sits on your table who you don’t know, carefully eye up their ID badge or their lanyard to give you a clue as to whether you should to talk to them or not.
Welcome and opening remarks – by key note speaker who is ‘Someone very Important.’
Keynote presentations – Followed by 2/3 presentations from ‘thought leaders’ or people who know lots of ‘stuff’ about specialist subjects related to the conference. A time for presenting challenging ideas for delegates to get them to think about, to try or to do something different.
Q&A of panel members – made up of ‘Thought leaders and stuff knowers’ where discussions can be started to really test how much ‘stuff’ they know, show them how wrong they are, or to show them just how much ‘stuff’ some of the delegates know.
Break – where delegates get to network, or more likely, find people they know who weren’t sat on their table because they arrived late.
Selection of Workshops – where people who don’t quite know so much ‘stuff’ get to tell delegates why they should be a ‘thought leader or stuff knower’ at the next conference. Might have an opportunity to experience some learning by doing but more likely that delegates will sit back and listen to more ‘stuff’ via powerpoint followed by more Q&A. This last part won’t take long as everyone wants to get in the queue for food before the line becomes unbearinlgy long and all the tasty stuff has gone.
Networking lunch – where you get to meet all of the contacts in this specialist field you’ve developed over the years and if you’re lucky, some new contact that one of them knows and you’re introduced to. Talk about lots of specialist stuff and tell everyone about what you’re doing in your force that is ‘groundbreaking.’ No-one really listens unless they want to transfer to your force or team.
Exhibitors – Lots of them in only place where there is decent coffee. You’re encouraged to visit them as, ‘without our exhibitors and sponsors this conference could not take place.’ All waiting to pounce on you to update you on the latest, greatest time and money saving service / product. But before you commit to visit their stall, you eye up the freebies first: quality pens or mugs; free bag of goodies; maybe a competition? Alternatively you might fancy working for them when you retire? OK, it’s worth a five-minute chat.
Optional: Early departure – afternoon looks like more of same / boring and it’s Friday and the traffic will be horrendous. Slip off quietly as no-one is likely to notice.
Afternoon Welcome Back – by ‘Someone who is also very important.’
More keynote presentations – where ideas for strategies / plans to cope with future demands are presented to delegates by people who have been doing lots of work to come up with different strategies / plans to cope with future demands.
Final panel Q&A – intended to debate future strategies / plans to cope with future demands, where fewer people ask questions or start up a discussion as the conference is overrunning and won’t finish on time if too may questions are asked.
Closing remarks and close of conference – by ‘Someone Very Important.’
Everyone goes home, flicks through their delegate pack on train and rediscovers it several months later when they’re having an office clear out. Try to make sense of the notes they made but can’t.
OK, maybe I’m being a bit harsh here as recently I have been to some incredibly interesting conferences full of learning and fresh ideas (last year’s Oxford City Council Unconference and Lancs Constabulary TEDx spring to mind), but if I’m honest, this pretty much describes most of the police related conferences I’ve been to as a delegate, speaker, facilitator or exhibitor.
Google ‘Police Conference’ and you’ll find organisations running similar agendas on ‘Important Subjects’ for anything from £250 to £600 a delegate. With lots of senior officers attending to deliver keynote speeches about something very important (for free?) to hundreds of delegates someone somewhere isn’t that austere?
But does it have to be like this?
How can a conference deliver something more meaningful, especially for the communities that you serve and are part of? How can a conference catalyse change in a meaningful way?
In my next blog all will be revealed!