The Biba conference was an enjoyable affair this year. But have celebrity headline speakers come at the cost of business-relevant content?

What do Joanna Lumley, John Simpson and the insurance market have in common? If I were a comedian, I’m sure I could come up with a pithy one-liner to explain the connection away, but I’m not. I’m just a bit mystified as to what they were doing speaking to delegates at this year’s Biba conference.

I thoroughly enjoyed hearing what both of these interesting people had to say, but as I sat there I couldn’t work out what the insurance connection was. The next thing I knew, I’d stopped listening to them altogether and instead was trying to work out exactly what the aim of a business conference is. To inform? Definitely. To network? Certainly. To entertain? Possibly.

Unfortunately, I think the balance between these three aims has become skewed and, in the effort to attract delegates, secure sponsors and continually make events bigger and better, organisers have lost sight of the core reason that delegates take time out of their day-to-day business activities and actually turn up.

I really enjoyed catching up with friends, colleagues and industry peers at the Biba event. There were a lot of stands to look around and a wonderful Malbec that helped Wednesday evening go with a swing. But did I learn anything new? No. Did I feel there was enough business-critical information that would help me make more sense of the current landscape in the insurance sector? No.

I understand that delegates do not want to turn up to a conference and spend two days with their heads stuck in the minutiae of regulation, or the micro-detail of the latest IT systems. However, I do believe that brokers prefer to leave a conference with a genuine feeling that they have learned something. I believe they want advice on business-critical issues, and while a conference is not, perhaps, the best place to deliver the detail, it is certainly an ideal setting to raise important topics and put them in front of the industry to cogitate and consider. With huge efforts being made to professionalise the market, this would add some real strength to the steel of its blade.

There will be some readers who think I’m being a fussy old fool and getting on my high horse about nothing very much. Many will like the hubbub of the conference scene and the relaxed environment in which they can meet and greet others from across the market and catch up on the latest gossip. But I just wonder if there isn’t room to refocus the conference scene slightly and add a little bit more weight to the business-relevant content that goes into each event.

After all, there’s no reason we can’t enjoy the Malbec and the company, as well as learning a thing or two to take back to the office and really get some value for money out of the hundreds of pounds it costs delegates to attend. Oh, and if anyone does know what Joanna Lumley, John Simpson and the insurance market have in common, please do help me out with your comments, below ...

Jonathan Davey is managing director of Keychoice Underwriting.