Beware the ghost! The problem of conference ‘ghosting’

 

Ghosting – the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.

Have you ever seen a ghost at a conference? That’s when a presentation is in the program, and the audience is assembled expectantly, and the presenter never turns up. Ghosting is becoming increasingly common at conferences, and as a meeting organizer it’s incredibly frustrating. Conferences only have a limited number of presentation slots. So, if someone says they are going to attend, and then don’t, that’s a slot that could have been taken by someone else. For a student, or someone early in their career, having a conference presentation slot could make a huge difference. So for someone to ‘waste’ a presentation slot by simply not turning up, you are being unthinking towards colleagues as well as the meeting organizers.

Conference organizers are often changing and updating the meeting program until the last minute. and there is often a waitlist for people wanting to do presentations. Or, for example, to give a longer spoken presentation instead of a speed presentation or a poster.

If you can’t make a meeting, tell the organizers as soon as possible. They can make arrangements so that that presentation slot is filled. With so many conference programs now being app-based and online rather than printed hard copies, changes to the program can be literally made the day before.

The urban dictionary says that “Ghosting is not specific to a certain gender and is closely related to the subject’s maturity and communication skills”. This follows for people who ghost conferences. As noted above it’s very unprofessional and by not turning up to present you are effectively announcing to your community that: (a) you are disorganized; (b) you are a poor communicator; (c) you are too selfish self-centered to consider the impact that you are having upon others. The message you give to other conference delegates that show up to your ghosted session is that you are not someone they would want to work with.

So, if you can’t show up at a conference for a legitimate reason, tell the organizers. They won’t get angry with you and will appreciate the notice. Or get a co-author or mentor to present in your stead – most will be more than happy to do so. But, if you chose the latter option, do give them plenty of advance warning so that they can prepare and ask you any questions for parts they don’t understand. Also, provide them with the presentation, with copious notes, so that they can deliver it appropriately and accurately for you.

Ghostbusting

If you are a conference or meeting planner, here are a few tips on how to avoid, or limit, conference ghosts.

Insist that every presenter register for the conference, and remove any presentations by potential delegates who haven’t. Having paid a registration fee makes it less likely that someone will blow off a presentation. If they do, at least you do not suffer financially from the resources (coffee, meals etc) that have been purchased for that no-show delegate.

Create a “black list”. If someone doesn’t show up, take their name. If you run a conference again either prevent the ghost from submitting or give their submitted abstract a penalty score so that they are less likely to be given an oral presentation. Emphasize that ghosting will have repercussions to them personally.

Publicize on the meeting website and in communications how unprofessional ghosting is, provide a line of rapid communication for delegates that have to cancel, and emphasize how badly ghosting makes you appear to your community.

Workshops

Delegates often sign up to pre- or post-meeting workshops, and then don’t turn up. Sometimes this is because of legitimate reasons (the inevitable post conference cold that inflicts delegates, flight delays, horrible jetlag, a work crisis etc), but often it’s because of illegitimate reasons (hangover, delegates decide to see the city, of forget that they had signed up for the event etc). This can be a real problem for organizers if they had specific planned activities, or actions, for that workshop. If the workshop goes through meal times, organizers could be hit with the financial costs of providing food for people who don’t turn up. Workshop ghosting can be reduced if workshop attendees have to pay a fee. If a fee isn’t required (for food, supplies, venue hire, AV and venue hire etc) for the workshop, then treat the fee as a deposit. If a delegate attends the workshop they are reimbursed for all, or part of, the fee.

If you highlight the issue of ghosting presentations well in advance of the meeting, then hopefully you shouldn’t be afraid of no ghosts.

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