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Gambling on Conventions
by Sudhir Kale

Gambling on Conventions
by Sudhir Kale

I don’t know about you, but I am getting increasingly bombarded with e-mails and brochures from gaming conventions and conference organizers. I also receive several requests to speak at these conferences, but more on that later.

Being a professor, I am a strong believer in the learning organization and an ardent supporter of lifelong learning. For a gaming organization to succeed, employees at all levels need a regular dose of new and alternative paradigms with which to approach their job. The industry is undergoing rapid advances with regard to surveillance technology, new and technologically sophisticated gaming products, and marketing techniques. Dealing with these on-going advances mandates a workforce that understands these complex issues, is motivated to perform at optimal levels, and has the skills for adequate deployment. Now, more than ever before, is the time for every gaming company to pay serious attention to knowledge advancement and knowledge management within their organization. No company possesses the internal resources required for continual learning and external suppliers most definitely have a role to perform. Sadly, most organizers of gaming conventions and conferences act as mere merchants, trying to procure the product (i.e. the speakers) at the lowest cost and selling the product (the program) at the highest possible price.

While some organizers do an excellent job of delivering real value to participants (the annual UNR executive development program is one example), most are driven by the opportunity to make money, and do not care much about the participants’ takeaways from the program. Consequently, gaming executives view these “knowledge suppliers” with suspicion and the credibility of many programs is rapidly eroding. I would like to share some insights in this matter that would hopefully remedy the situation – somewhat!

I see four major problems that convention organizers will have to address if they want to survive in the knowledge delivery business and deliver a meaningful product to their customers. These relate to planning, focus, faculty, and compensation.

Planning

I often get phone calls from convention organizers asking for my inputs on the program content and faculty for their seminars, conventions, and master classes. Typically, the coordinators tend to be twenty somethings with no background or understanding of the gaming industry. Often, programs from years gone by are repeated regardless of participant feedback and relevance.

Organizers need to first decide on their target market in terms of program attendees. Often there is the temptation to cast a wide net. When you have a group of students with varying levels of education, experience, and functional expertise, teaching becomes very difficult. A related problem is when session content is decided on speaker availability rather than what knowledge should be delivered. As a result, the final product is invariably bland in content and devoid of rigor. Many participants go away with a feeling that they have been conned. They have invested their time and parted with their money and have received little of value in return. These unpleasant consequences could have been avoided with proper planning on the part of program organizers.

Focus

Most executive development programs in gaming are devoid of focus. Rather than trying to cover everything under the sun in a couple of days, organizers should structure the program so that specific value is delivered to the targeted group of attendees. It is better to have a narrow theme (e.g. Keeping Customers for Life) than a ubiquitous one (e.g. State of the Art in Casino Management).

Many organizers forget that participants are giving their valuable time with the main intent of learning. In many programs and conventions, networking becomes the primary motif and learning is incidental. While I do not denigrate the networking activity, it should not happen at the expense (pun intended) of learning.

Faculty

Look on the Internet for gaming conventions, and chances are, you will find the same speakers making the rounds around the globe. I have been to scores of seminars and conventions, and have been decidedly unimpressed with the quality of speakers and their level of conceptualization. Since many of these speakers come from industry, I cannot help but surmise that their organization feels that these individuals are better off speaking somewhere than “working” and creating problems for the company.

Many speakers, since they are recruited by the organizers on an opportunistic basis, are very casual about their preparation for the conference session. I will be moderating a session at a major convention next month, and am in the process of coordinating the content of various speakers at my session. One of the speakers seems so busy that he has his secretary correspond with me. Obviously, this gentleman does not think it is worth his time to devote much attention to his speaking engagement. One can only guess what the quality of his presentation is going to be!

Compensation

Faithful Urbino.net readers may recall my article, “Gambling Industry’s Hard Bargain with Academics,” posted on May 25, 2003. In this piece, I bemoaned the despicable practice of conference organizers recruiting academics for their program for free. Worse, many organizations do not even pay hotel or airfare expenses to their faculty. This practice, to me, is unfair and immoral. Unlike corporate executives who get to claim their expenses when speaking at conferences, academics have to pay out of their own modest pocket. The organizers, in the meantime, charge obscene registration fees to the attendees and keep the fat profits for themselves.

As a result of this exploitation activity where the organizers become modern-day Merchants of Venice, they often attract low level, desperate and poor quality academics. The net result is poor performance, and a generally lackluster image of the academic community within the industry.

It will not burn a hole in the pocket of seminar and conference organizers to pay a modest honorarium and expense reimbursement to academics for their time and effort. Doing so will attract better talent and can only improve the quality of the program. To some degree, the consenting academic community is to blame for this malaise. We no longer find such slavery abhorrent. We embrace it.

Conference organizers for their part, try to use the altruistic appeal when asking academics for their free labor. As Ayn Rand aptly puts it, “It only stands to reason that where there's sacrifice, there's someone collecting the sacrificial offerings. Where there's service, there is someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice is speaking of slaves and masters, and intends to be the master.”

Enough said!

Date Posted: 08-Jun-2008

Sudhir H. Kale, Ph.D., is Professor of Marketing at Bond University’s School of Business in Gold Coast, Australia. He is also the Founder of GamePlan Consultants, a company that offers training and marketing consultancy to gaming companies all over the world. You can visit Sudhir’s website, www.gameplanconsultants.com or write to him at skale@gameplanconsultants.com. You can download several of Sudhir’s articles on his website or from urbino.net.

 
 
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