You've got seven minutes to make your point

Forum: Place of or meeting for public discussion . It’s common these days for any large gathering of people united by some business interest to describe their get-together as “a forum”. But I seriously question how many of such gatherings actually deserve the title. In many cases, “lecture” ( discourse before audience on given subject ) would be more appropriate.
Last year I attended a “forum” in Moscow at which there were some very serious figures from the worlds of business and politics speaking from the platform. I looked forward to the question and answer session at the end of the speeches. Even though the speeches finished 15 minutes before the coffee break, no opportunity was given for questions; the VIPs disappeared immediately, no doubt satisfied that they had given their words of wisdom to the assembled delegates. This delegate was far from satisfied.

The next session, where the speakers were vips (as opposed to VIPs), ended a full hour before lunch was due… but we broke for lunch anyway, much to the consternation of the catering staff in the hotel hosting the event. When it came, I found the lunch far more satisfying than anything else that had been served up that morning.

Unfortunately, far too many Russians – especially those deeply-rooted in Soviet times – still take the approach to any forum, conference, seminar or other gathering of professional people that “I am the boss/governor/leader and therefore you will listen to me”. They’ll speak for an hour, and if they think they’re up-to-date in technology they’ll show a few slides which their staff have prepared for them. Almost invariably, these slides are crowded with words which no one in the hall can read and wouldn’t bother even if they could as there are too many on each slide.

Guess what? No one pays attention. No one could tell you afterwards any details of what was said. Half the audience have spent the session emailing or texting on the electronic devices which they haven’t bothered to switch off. But, rather like the story of the king’s new clothes, everyone then pays lip-service to the big man, and this pointless exercise becomes self-perpetuating.

One rule which I put in place for the recent RBCC Business Forum in London was that, whoever the speaker was, they would have seven minutes to get their message across and then they would be available for questions. Even the Lord Mayor of the City of London, Alderman Nick Anstee, was given the instruction – and stuck to it.

This was why we changed the title of our annual conference from “summit” to “forum”. It wasn’t just playing around with words. We genuinely want our gathering to be an event for public discussion. The later timing this year of the St Petersburg Economic Forum caused confusion in some people’s minds as to why our event was the second “Russian Forum” in a week. In fact these are very different events.

In St Petersburg, some 6,000 delegates gather over a few days to hear about various aspects of the Russian economy. The RBCC Business Forum once again brought together 250 people focused on business matters between the UK and Russia. It’s a smaller audience, a shorter time-span (an evening and a morning) and a very specific set of topics. And it got people talking business with their peers.

That’s the sign of a successful event.

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