The Problem with Mines & Money.  Too many great speakers.

This year’s Mines & Money London ended Thursday and I have to say it probably brought together the best array of mining, metals and minerals expert speakers perhaps ever assembled under one roof.  Its problem – a great problem to have perhaps – was that there were so many really strong individual presentations, panel discussions and one-on-one interviews (with good moderators who ensured everything ran smoothly and to schedule – a major achievement in itself) that for major parts of the four day event the talks had to be split into three streams and it was thus impossible to take in all those one would have liked to have listened to.  And, to an extent one suffered from information overload anyway.  How the organisers can top this in the future in terms of invited high quality speakers is hard to contemplate.

I suppose the other basic difficulty facing the organisers is how the conference is paid for and the effects this has on speaker distribution through the various streaming locations.  While the conference centre in Islington – although not basically designed as such – did have space to accommodate all these, the fact is that the way these conferences are financed is for the greater part of income to be provided in speaker/exhibitor packages to be sold to those companies which wish to put their investment case forward – and these speakers almost certainly needed to have the main presentation auditorium to present in to keep them happy.  In a publishing parallel, these are the advertisers while the expert speakers provide the editorial.  This means that some of the plethora of really strong speakers and discussions get relegated to the smaller satellite conference rooms which accommodate fewer people while the ‘advertisers’ find themselves presenting to sometimes a three-quarters empty auditorium (but for them it is perhaps better than to an even smaller audience in one of the smaller satellite presenting rooms.)

The alternative, of course is to only have the expert speakers but charge much larger sums for conference attendees to come in – which would then almost certainly substantially reduce the revenues and the overall event size.  This would reduces too the networking opportunities, which provide one of such a conference’s other main strengths.  Mines & Money combines both sides here, but many delegates consider the price to attend is already too high anyway, so bumping this up could be very counter productive.  A major dilemma for the organisers.

Mines & Money is thus not the only major event which utilises this kind of business plan.  The ever popular Mining Indaba in Cape Town in February (a great location advantage in the heart of the northern winter) works similarly, although perhaps its specific problem is that it has thrown its exhibition space open to the big mining equipment manufacturers which have much more money to spend on the exhibits and thus dominate the space – so much so that the junior and mid-tier miners and explorers at whom the conference was originally aimed – feel they are being squeezed out.

But back to this year’s Mines & Money – the speaker programme was, as mentioned above, exceptional, right from day 1.  The big names here were legion.  Presentations ranged from the sublime – perhaps Grant Williams’ polished performance presentation on the final day was the absolute highlight in that it combined music, graphics, lots of humour and some great analytical content, but with other hugely polished presenters like Rick Rule, Frank Holmes, Pierre Lassonde, Tom Albanese, David Humphreys, Mark Bristow, Ian Hannam, Robin Griffiths to name just a few on the main programme.  There were also many more top names on the various panels and discussion groups – together with an array of perhaps lesser known, but hugely informative presenters covering virtually all aspects of global mining, metals and minerals.  This was a great conference line-up.  Even yours truly got into the act interviewing Grant Williams in one of the on-on-ones – an easy task give Grant has so much to say.

Perhaps the other criticism – if one can criticise such a strong event at all – is that nearly all the main presenter speaker slots were only 20 minutes in length, whereas so many of the main speakers would have happily been able to take much more time putting their views across.  Because they were all such strong presenters (I perhaps only attended one main presentation which could have been described as under-prepared and disappointing, even though the speaker had good presence), this would not have been a problem in audience attention – indeed would have been welcomed.  But there are only so many hours in the day, and even a four day conference is considered long nowadays.  Who would be a conference organiser?

The accompanying exhibition this year was considerably smaller than in previous years, but that was hardly surprising given the state of the resource sector.  It did seem to be pretty well attended throughout and the exhibit floor also provided a great networking space.

Overall  a really good event for those wishing to hear some great expert views on our industry.