A decade ago when seminar mania had not gripped the city colleges, my exposure to the seminars was limited. I had heard about seminars but never attended one. That was the time I had an exalted notion about seminars. But I was in for a (c)rude shock when I attended the first seminar of my life.
I remember it was a high sounding international seminar on feminism. Though supposed to be an international seminar, majority of the speakers were local. There was one from a little known university in Australia, the lone speaker from another country to justify the pre-fix international to the seminar. Nevertheless, I was quite enthusiastic about the seminar. But soon my excitement gave way to disillusionment. Speaker after speaker spoke, some on the subject but there were many wide off the mark. While some were brilliant, most were disappointing as they dished out ‘recycled’ matter in an insipid manner.
In less than a decade, from a rare occurrence, seminars have become a regular feature .In fact; there is a mad race among the colleges to organize seminars which require a lot of investment in time, energy and resources. But perhaps the most daunting task for the organizers is to arrange the audience. The freebies in the form of attractive folders, writing pads and pens are necessary to attract the delegates but not sufficient to retain them in the seminar hall. The high tea and the sumptuous lunch are no guarantee for a good attendance in the seminar either.
Recently I attended a prestigious conference-a congregation of economists which shattered any illusion, whatsoever, that I had about seminars. During the course of deliberations, there were times when the seminar hall wore a deserted look. Many delegates disappeared after the inaugural session to appear at the lunch time. Needless to say, the attendance was overwhelming at the lunch hour. There might have been a glaring lack of interest in the deliberations and proceedings by the participants but the scramble for free briefcases at the registration counter was the most participated event. Many of the delegates were on family vacation, away for sight seeing for most part of the day. A few dozed off. Of course, the determined handful doggedly sat through all the sessions to listen to speaker after speaker trying to figure out sense from intellectual onslaught.
After attending dozens of seminars I have come to realize that a seminar is ‘Much ado about nothing’. If a meeting is where hours are wasted and minutes are recorded, a seminar is where day /days are spent but nothing worthwhile is registered.
My apologies to seminar enthusiasts for the outrageous comments, but to them, I suggest let there be a mega seminar to judge the utility/futility of seminars.
(Published in The Tribune as Middle on Sept. 14, 2011)