Belated FEEGI Conference Report

Last week, I was at the FEEGI conference at Duke. The Forum For European Expansion and Global Interaction (www.feegi.org) has had me as a member for a while, but this was the first time I had attended the biennial conference. And it was GREAT!!

What set it apart from other conferences I have been to:

  • The price (ie NOT hell expensive. Yes, AHA, I am looking at you... )
  • The included food was impressive! No cold ham & cheese sandwiches, but a Lebanese buffet the first day, and Indian the second. And that was LUNCH.
  • The fact that everyone went to everything. There were no simultaneous panels, so everyone spent all of the two days in the one room, watching the presentations together. This might sound claustrophobic, but I found the audience to be highly engaged. I got some very useful comments on my paper, despite being later in the program (around the time people are often either napping or heading to the airport).
  • Despite covering an impressive swathe of world history (European expansion across the globe from the 14th to 19th centuries!) there seemed to be commonality and focus across the program. For the first time in a long time at a conference, I actually got something out of every panel I saw.

(and what made this truly astounding? It started at 8AM each morning. And everyone showed up!!)
So, how do they do it, and what lessons can be learnt? I’m organising a conference this summer and am keen to see what works (I’ve sat through some truly dire examples of what DOESN’T). Included lunch obviously helps, as that way people stick around and talk during the break, rather than running down the street to a sandwich shop (and not bothering to come back for the afternoon panels). And having somewhere to SIT for the lunch. Too many events I’ve been to involve trying to juggle a plate, a wine glass and a bread roll while standing up. OK, so I’m food obsessed: but it does seem to make a real difference. Just try telling the academics at a conference that there is no coffee... ;)
The coordinators obviously also went to some trouble to select the papers that complemented one another, to make strong panels. But isn’t that what all conference planners try to do?

There’s obviously a mysterious something else, that gets a crowd to stick around, and stay involved. I don’t know what the FEEGI trick is (was it in the coffee?), but I would like to see it at more conferences.