When you’ve been working at conferences for 20 + years, it’s not often you get to experience a true “first”. But last month, while MC’ing a conference in the US, I looked out into the audience to see an audience member, a middle aged man, casually spinning a fidget spinner.

In the event you have no idea what a fidget spinner is (which probably means you have no kids or at least no kids aged between about 3-15!!!), it is one of this year’s hottest crazes, aimed at young children. It is a small toy, made from plastic or metal with ball bearings so a person can spin it between their fingers.

The (now extremely wealthy) manufacturers argue that spinning them helps children relieve their need to fidget and so therefore helps kids focus in the classroom.

My 11 year old daughter has one – and loves spinning it, although I suspect the argument that it helps you pay attention is an unsubstantiated one, dreamt up by toy marketers to sell more of their cool toy-de-jour. Ironically, they have become sufficiently distracting that the kids at my daughter’s school are now banned from playing with them in class. How’s that for irony??

Call me a cynic but I still believe that the single most useful thing needed to help kids concentrate in the classroom are interesting teachers using interactive, creative teaching methods.

Similarly, I still believe that the most useful things needed to help adults concentrate in the conference-room are interesting presenters using interactive, creative presenting methods.

During a break in my US conference, I asked the audience member why he was playing with the spinner. He told me that as it happened he was totally engaged in this particular conference, but that most conferences tended to be a little dull, so he brought it along just in case and he was now just a “casual spinner”.

It struck me that many people these days attend company conferences expecting to be bored whilst sitting in the conference room, anticipating long-winded presentations from executives, involving tired old, rambling PowerPoint presentations – and are not at all surprised when their attention wanders.

I strongly believe the onus is on conference committees and organisers to ensure that tired formats are not blindly repeated, that speakers are up to the task, that the content is dynamic, that visuals and videos are top-notch and that presentation times are short (I recommend 20 minutes for any non-seasoned presenter) to accommodate for dwindling attention spans.

If we don’t do so for each and every conference, we may as well hand out a fidget spinner with every lanyard and registration satchel. I haven’t seen any yet, but I’m guessing conference merchandise companies are busy printing sponsors’ logos onto fidget spinners to give out as conference exhibitor gifts at an upcoming conference !!!