Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Time Keeping and Conferences in Africa

I have been presenting papers at conferences in Africa since mid 90s. I have presented papers at national, regional and international conferences to audiences that have included government ministers, academicians and information and knowledge management professionals. Making presentations at conferences is one way of sharing tacit knowledge (personal knowledge embedded in individual experience). It gives the presenter an opportunity to elaborate on the content of his/her paper and to answers questions from the audience. Sharing tacit knowledge at conferences requires time for the presentation, discussion and answering the questions. Unfortunately, of late, I have noticed that in Africa we are running short of time for presentations at conferences.

Justin Chisenga at a conference
The absence of a culture of time keeping among most Africans has finally caught up with conferences. Today it is common for conference organizers to ask paper presenters to prepare for 20 minutes presentations and on the day of the presentations some unfortunate presenters are allocated about 10 minutes or less to make their presentations. The main reason for this in most cases has to do with poor time keeping. I have been at conferences where:

  • The first presenters, usually in the morning, are given too much liberty with time and as result later in the day time for the presentations is reduced for some unfortunate individuals.
  • The discussions following the presentations take long, beyond the allocated time because the session moderator/chairperson is unable to manage the time well;
  • Tea/coffee and lunch breaks go way beyond the allocated time;
  • Conference participants arrive late and conference proceedings start late.

The most annoying situation is when you spend the whole morning waiting for a government official (usually senior civil servants and sometimes ministers) to come and officiate at the opening session of the conference. The major consequence is that the programme for the day is derailed.

I have been at conference (in 2006) where I was to make a presentation in just after tea/coffee break. It was later moved to the afternoon. My session has three papers. About one hour before the session, we were asked to reduce our presentations from 20 to about 15 minutes. When the session began, we were allocated ten minutes each. I was to present last, and so I had time to see which slides to delete from my presentation. When I was finally called to make the presentation, I was told to do it in five minutes.

I walked to the podium, greeted the audience, read the title of my presentation and told them that I hoped they had read my paper and that would be available for questions and answers outside the conference room for questions. That was it, in less than one minute.

How do you expect me to spend months writing a paper, sacrifice my time to travel to the conference to make the presentation and only to be given five minutes to make the presentation?

1 comment:

  1. One seriously agree with Dr Chisenga. I think time management should be a major task that need to be worked on by people who chair at conferences, it is unfair for one to site and break his/her back to prepare for a paper to be delivered at a conference where one was given 20 minutes initially and just when he/she is about to present the paper, he/she is given 5 minutes. What a blow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This can deter professionals from attending and presenting papers at conferences.