Selena Deckelmann's blog

Responding to offensive presentations at conferences

posted on Sep 28, 2009
tags: conferences responding wtf
categories: community complaints conference leadership

[caption id="attachment_1173" align="aligncenter" width="350" caption="How to handle WTF conference presentation moments."]How to handle WTF conference presentation moments.[/caption]

On a couple mailing lists I participate in, people have raised the question: "When something offensive occurs during a conference presentation, what's the right response from the audience and/or conference organizers?"

Unfortunately, at least one of these discussion lists is private, so I can't directly quote the individuals who posted. But the content was worth sharing, so I'm summarizing the group's thoughts in my own words below.

Here are some of the suggestions for handling offensive, unprofessional or inappropriate presentation content:

One theme that emerged was the need for some kind of immediate response that communicated both to the audience and the speaker that something was wrong. However, many situations require individuals to use their best judgment in responding, and stopping a talk should likely be left to the discretion of a conference chair.

Also, treating the speaker as though they have made an honest mistake and did not intend to offend anyone (I have yet to experience a situation where this was not the case, personally) is always the right way to start a conversation about it.

Photo courtesy of SanFranAnnie, under a Creative Commons License

Have some feedback? Corrections? Ideas for other posts? Contact me @selenamarie.