Events coming under the iron rod of TV chat shows

We’re meant to be in the digital age but television still rules with TV show formats relentlessly laying the format for conferences. ITB Asia has a dedicated MICE day at its annual travel industry gathering in Singapore, which too has fallen under the spell of talk show formats. Panels are the order of the day with audience participation a must, if only to ensure they stay attentive, and it comes under the control of the moderator, brand or paying participants.

CNN has moved aside as the predominant media partner of ITB Asia in favour of BBC World News, which sees Sharanjit Leyl, the channel’s Singapore-based producer and presenter moderating the main panels. These take the form of the industry’s great and good being introduced on stage and discussing in a genial manner the issues that face their companies, or brands. All this while Leyl or another eminent figure – depending on the panel’s level of prestige – moderates the discussion.

The format has now been tacked onto ITB Asia’s MICE day, not necessarily by the show’s organisers, but the special interest groups that are given the venue space and time for a seminar or panel discussion. I grew up watching debates or chat shows on British television, and they had their entertainment as well as information value. They were all the more better if they didn’t go on too long, or at least had a commercial break so a cup of tea could be made.

When MCI held sway
At industry events these days, the panel discussion is replacing the press conference, and acts as a nice format to avoid the more challenging questions from the floor. In the case of ITB Asia, this may be understandable in order to spare everyone the same question each year from one less than charming travel industry hack: “Why is ITB facilitating the presence of LGBT travel organisers and content in a region where there is a distinct opposition to this lifestyle?”

At one time, MCI held sway at the meetings and incentive elements at the annual Messe Berlin-operated trade show that takes place alongside Web in Travel, hotel management conferences and events such as GBTA gatherings. Meeting industry power brokers like Robin Lokerman glided around breakout rooms diverting discussions away from a panel of “distinguished experts” and onto a floor of office juniors and or headline-hungry media eager to learn more about MICE.

MIX hosted one of these panel formats about three years ago (when I was on another magazine) and you could see and hear the hack and another travel media personality contribute, or rather try to discredit, the whole purpose of this particular panel, which was themed on incentive groups and CSR for needy communities.

Like so many others, I attended in order to see who was on stage and in the audience rather than the subject matters (oh, come on, that is a prime motivator). Others had a different motive, and about every few minutes offered a pointless critique in a manner that bordered on the disruptive. If entertainment or the establishing of fact was the basis of their argument, one would be appreciative – but something else was at hand, and it had more to do with discrediting an event organised by another entity. 

No such skullduggery was present as I moderated the SACEOS panel about challenges and opportunities in Asia, followed by the ITB Asia & ICESAP seminar on customer insights on MICE Day in October 2016.

The ICESAP (Incentive Conference & Events Society Asia Pacific) went off with barely a hitch, and the content and insights given there and at SACEOS (Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers) offered solid foundations for progress, legacy building and network opportunities. All within that “Turbo Thursday” during ITB Asia at the Sands Convention & Exhibition Centre in Singapore.

Mini marathon
Where the panel format seriously goes amiss, however, is when it comes up against time and venue space. Once those time slots and rooms are secured the organisers go hell for leather and milk those rare privileges.

The first thing association officials tend to do is get a complete hour of panel discussion: a mini marathon in content and presentation terms. SACEOS had a captive audience of mostly willing participants. ICESAP’s was held in the Knowledge Theatre on the show floor with the aim of attracting buyers on their lunch break. Still, an hour is too long for a chat show – just ask Sharanjit Leyl.

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