I once attended a conference that I swear was just one elaborate piss take, a comment on the vacuousness of modern professional gatherings taking the form of one momentous and brilliantly organised prank.
It was in Queensland at a place called Pastel Island. That was my first clue there, wasn’t it?
The first speaker of the day called himself an inspiration vocaliser and assured everyone present that the secret to work life happiness was getting your job title right. He then slid down from the stage on an inflatable ramp he called the Dream Realisation Embankment and began asking people to say their job titles into his “Psychrophone”, which was just a giant peach-coloured microphone.
He would “correct” them, as if they’d made some kind of absurd elementary mistake like mispronouncing their own name. An accountant was a “finance engineer”. A teacher was a “knowledge transference technician”. A project manager was a “togetherness synthesizer”. Then someone said “I walk dogs professionally” and there was a quite a long pause. People began laughing after around 10 seconds at which point the man inspired everyone to clench their buttocks very hard by vocalising that we all needed to “shut up and let me think”.
The next day we were asked to go outside and “enjoy the beautiful beach”. Waiting for us was a mechanised talking turtle who somehow drew out an analogy between egg-laying and effective communication for three hours.
On day three the keynote speaker died in flagrante delicto and the remaining fifteen days of the conference were called off.
Having just re-read my own case I’m now thinking it wasn’t a prank at all.
Jonathan Rivett often just makes stuff up.
An edited version of this article first appeared in the MyCareer section of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. You can read Benign to Five in those papers every Saturday.