September 2014, Vol. 69, No. 9

Editor's Log

Extra Mile

It’s official. The always eagerly-anticipated benchmark industry educational program of the annual Underground Construction Technology International Conference & Exhibition (UCT) has been announced. I say “eagerly-anticipated” not to hype the conference, but purely to reflect the extraordinary high level of interest we get each summer as the clock ticks down to the final program.

As we agonized over how to ensure the best quality program, a recent comment from an attendee came to mind: “Our company attends a lot of shows to remain up-to-date on the latest technology, issues and all the things that impact our market. Some shows are technical, some are basic. But when we get back to the job, my co-workers and I are always looking for our notes from UCT as they are the most applicable to our work.”

That gratifying remark combined with constantly being barraged by people asking how they can participate in the program convinced me that it was time to explain the process. It’s no secret; just a lot of work.

From the first UCT in January 1995, a standard and purpose was established with firm goals in mind. Other events come and go, rise and fall, but industry personnel always point to UCT as the best example of value in learning opportunities.

The UCT Educational Program is not reflective of a single source to generate our sessions. Rather, it is a complex, involved process that incorporates many industry personnel. We strive to develop a core program of roughly 100 sessions. The idea is to present a diverse and concentrated buffet of subject areas so attendees can pick and choose according to interests and actual in-the-field needs.

Each spring, we invite interested industry personnel to submit ideas from many facets of the underground construction and rehabilitation market via our “Call for Proposals.” This differs from traditional “call for abstracts” as we’re not seeking highly technical, formal and rigid submissions. (Moderately technical is okay. UCT attendees are business smart – just typically don’t carry a lot of PhD titles necessary to understand those types of presentations.) We want practical, informative and easily translatable to the “real world” sessions. We’ll leave highly technical, high-brow material to other events.

We also severely limit vendor-only presentations. While we could easily fill our program with such presentations, we prefer credibility in our sessions. That only comes when contractors, engineers and utility owners present their sides of the story in a generic format. We do our best to keep the “sales pitch” sessions to a minimum. (I actually maintain a Black List. Give a sales pitch once and you won’t be back on the program!)

Next, we form special committees for various market segments – sewer, water, HDD, general underground utility construction, damage prevention and safety, etc. – to meticulously review the submissions. Being on one of these committees is not just an honor – it is a lot of hard work. We meet several times a year, each meeting to further refine accepted concepts, communicate with authors and curry out those sessions not meeting our high and specific standards.

Even more important, the panel serves as a measuring stick. We keep submitted ideas to about 50 percent or less of the program. The remainder is generated by brainstorming with experts to determine just what are the hot spots within the market place? Are their weaknesses or gaps within the program? What areas should we pursue to better produce a well-rounded, comprehensive and beneficial event? We take all this into account and then build the final product.

We keep our presentation schedule flexible enough to allow time variations. As a rule, we limit sessions to 30 minutes. But if a topic has enough meat, we extend to an hour. Some subjects are best handled with multiple presenters or a panel discussion. Whatever it takes, we have the format to reflect the importance of a subject.

“More, more, more” seems to have become a bit of a trend among the multitude of conferences and shows in 2014. Programs have become bloated with short presentations. While jumping the number of sessions each year may be an effective way to increase overall show attendance and money (most events charge even speakers a substantial registration fee), it is not necessarily a beneficial solution for attendees and presenters. We prefer to keep a digestible, flexible program that maximizes educational and learning benefits for attendees.

For 20 years of UCT, it’s never been about the most; it’s about the best.

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