As a journalist, I spend a considerable amount of time at conferences scouting for 'useful contacts'. Since such talkathons don't always have the most-engaging of speakers, my mind often floats in and out of those speeches till someone cheerfully announces 'tea break'. At one such meet recently, as I was plotting my escape route, I overheard two participants talk about a common acquaintance. “He is a conference tourist,” one of the two announced grandly.
An amusing term, I thought, but spot on nevertheless. In fact, the more I thought about it, I realised I knew quite a few of them. But don't get me wrong here, these conference tourists are not boring characters, in fact they have unique personalities.
Take for example, the 'bag collector'. At a recent meeting, my trained eye spotted him collecting freebies from the stalls with great enthusiasm and passion. At the end of the first day of the meet, he was the proud collector of at least six multi-coloured bags (cloth bags, no plastics, please), colourful brochures, writing pads and ballpoint pens. Over the years, the 'conference tourist' has also become techno-savvy. These days they carry small digicams and whenever a speaker presents slides with data and important information, click goes the tourist. No more jotting down those painful details about the world going bust.
Then there was this Chinese gentleman I met recently. After every session, he had a flawless modus operandi: while others would go up to the speaker for his visiting card or a question/suggestion, the Chinese gentleman aimed for the speaker's laptop. In one flawless motion, he would swoop down on the speaker, ask for his/her permission to copy the slides into his pen drive — and even before the speaker could give his permission, his job was done — all in a flash. So when does one earn the celebrated 'conference tourist' tag? I think when you know where to sit during the talk sessions: the real McCoys always sit next to a door.