Sunday, March 25, 2007

13 Rules for Finding the Perfect Seat at a Medical Conference: A Journalist's Guide

These rules are more or less in the order of importance.

1. This may seem almost too obvious even to mention , but you can't sit in a seat that someone else is occupying. The key to getting a good seat is to get to the room as early as possible. As you'll see, there are so many constraints defining the perfect seat thatin many conference rooms there are only a handful of acceptable choices. (Actually, since some of the constraints are quite stringent, in many rooms there's not a single seat that satisfies all of them, so the only choice is to choose the least bad seat.)

2. You want to be sitting near the front, especially if you hope to grab the speakers for interviews or photos immediately after their talks.

3. You want to be sitting at a conference table, if possible, not in the rows of chairs behind the conference tables in many conference rooms. A table allows you to spread out your material, your notepad, the conference program, your recorder, your camera, your glass of water, and your coffee. If the room's not completely full, I often try to spread my material over two adjacent spaces at a conference table.

4. Don't sit by the pitcher of ice water often placed at intervals on the conference tables. Not only does it decrease the amount of real estate available to spread out, but there is a danger of spills or drips as people lean over you to get glasses of water. Murphy demonstrated conclusively that those spills and drips will certainly land directly on your sensitive electronic equipment.

5. If there are no conference tables, it's critical to appropriate two adjacent chairs. The alternative is to balance the notepad, program, recorder, and camera on your knees, putting the coffee and water underneath the seat. That way lies madness.

6. Aisle seats are critical. Otherwise you'll be annoying people every time you need to run up for a photo or for a word with the speaker.

7. You want to sit as close to the front as possible, but notice where the loudspeakers are. Often they're located behind the first few rows and pointed to the back of the auditorium. If you're closer to the front than the loudspeakers, your recording will sound muffled. If the sound is bad in one part of the room, you may have to move to another during the first talk

8. You want to sit where there's a clean line of sight to the screen, especially if you plan to photograph the speakers' PowerPoint presentations. It's really annoying when the bald head of the guy sitting in front of you obscures the one piece of data you need to complete your article. It's often best to sit a bit farther from the screen if that allows you to put the center aisle between the screen and your camera. That aisle makes it less likely that you'll have an obstructed view.

9. Don't sit too close to the video projector. Not only is the warm air blown by the exhaust fans annoying, but your recorder is likely to pick up a lot of background noise.

10. Some meetings have rules against taking photographs or making audio recordings. I believe such rules don't--or at least shouldn't--apply to reporters, in much the same way that TV camera crews at a major news event refer to designated no-parking areas as "the minicam zone." But if you're anticipating an argument with one of the medical society employees, discretion being the better part of valor, you may want to sit in the middle of the auditorium and away from an aisle.

11. If you're at a big meeting, and you're covering parallel sessions in different rooms, you're going to want to sit fairly close to an exit door.

12. If you take notes on your laptop, try to find a seat at the edge of the auditorium, near a source of electrical power.

13. If you're going to be sitting through some boring talks before you get to the good ones, sit where there's good WiFi reception. That way you can catch up on your e-mail and even write blog posts to while away the time.


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