I was at a conference a little while back. For those that may not have experienced the delight that is a conference, a typical conference is at a decent sized building, where you go, sign a register, get a coffee, maybe a pen and an agenda or other handouts (pen drives are quite fashionable nowadays), sit through a few seminars, eat some lunch (which varies but is usually a buffet which includes sandwiches), a few more seminars, and then an almighty dash for the exit. Quite often attendance reduces as the afternoon goes on as people, scanning the agenda, decide that they can miss the last item or two and get home early.
Conferences are typically supported by the venues management and support staff, and let me be very clear, mainly the support staff. Management are typically very much in presence for the planning of any events, however when it gets to the day of the event, it will be the receptionists, caretakers, and catering team that handle the high workload which includes:
- Around a hundred people in suits getting lost
- People asking where the "Birch Triad Room" is (or some other slightly unusual name - they can never name them something simple like "Room 2")
- Fixing the toilets after someone dropped a onion bhaji down them
- Attempting to hook up one of the presenters laptops to the projector - which is never a straightforward process
- Ensuring drinks are topped up
- Getting food out
- Clearing up plates after people have eaten
The list of activities goes on, generally ensuring that the support team are quite slender due to the fact that they haven't stopped moving - even to sleep - for several days.
However, the one I went to recently had different support staff. Every single one of them were suited up (the norm for event support is trousers and polo shirt), complete with security-type earbuds, the sort of thing you'd see on doormen at nightclubs. This is particularly odd as I wasn't actually at a work conference for once, but instead one for people to attend in their own time. Not unreasonably the majority of people attending had elected not to wear business attire on their day off, so for once the support staff actually looked smarter than the attendees.
None of them smiled either, and looked fairly well built, making it feel that the Secret Service were taking a day off guarding the President of the United States to hand out sandwiches. I entertained myself by imagining what was going through the earbuds:
"Cub One to Wolf King, contact."
"Wolf King to Cub One. How many?"
"We have twenty four, two four, people headed for the main entry point."
"Acknowledged, Cub One, keep monitoring and providing updates. Do not engage unless attacked. Wolf King to Cub Two, you have incoming. Status?"
"Pens and agendas at the ready."
"Wolf King, this is Cub Four. We have a delay of zero-two minutes on coffee, I repeat we have a delay of zero-two minutes on coffee."
"Acknowledged, Cub Four. Wolf King to Cub Two, fumble the pens when you pass them out, is that clear? We need to buy Four some time."
"Yes sir, fumbling."
I made sure to get out of that conference a little early, after all if the conference was being catered by a national security service there may well have been some sort of undercover operation going on. Best to keep out of harms reach, I feel.