Conferences, connections & ecosystems

lights and crowds

Are conferences broken? Do conferences need to change?

What are the goals of a conference?

  • Communicate
    This can be research results, new products, new design, development or testing techniques, new ideas, etc. It can be about education and learning. It is the main
  • Exchange of Ideas
    To encourage the excitement, simultaneity, and ad-hoc in the halls discussions between people.
  • Connections
    To provide networking, partnership, and collaboration opportunities between the participants, companies, organizers and co-workers that last beyond the conference.
  • Recognition
    To celebrate outstanding work and research of the members of the community. The conference itself may represent the recognition of excellence by acceptance of a talk.

How do these goals compare to the goals of conference attendees?

  1. Evangelize: Conferences are a good place to share information about your company and to brand yourself. They allow you to share your expertise with fellow industry colleagues and potential customers…If you effectively demonstrate your capabilities, your company will benefit by 1- recruiting talent, 2- marketing its services, and 3- generating new business leads.
  2. Bonding with Colleagues: Often times, you have the opportunity to attend a conference with colleagues from work…Try to meet at least once for dinner or drinks and have non-office related conversations.
  3. Networking: One of the key aspects of any conference is meeting people who are normally inaccessible to you. The social media world, in particular, revolves around relationships. Conferences allow you to meet new people and maintain old friendships…Chris Brogan offers great tips on how to meet new people at conferences using social media.
  4. Education: The conferences are increasingly gaining reputations for not offering new knowledge for those who have been in the industry more than a year. However, I am seeing a shift where organizers are pushing for new topics and recruiting a more diverse group speakers. You can also gain valuable insight just by having conversations with various attendees. I really enjoy standing in the hallway of the venue and having random discussions with fellow colleagues about industry-related topics.
  5. Vendors: One of the best parts of conferences is meeting potential vendors face-to-face and learning about what they offer. This allows you to immediately determine if their product/service is applicable to your needs. It helps save time and allows you to go back to your office with some key recommendations of possible partners

Interestingly, I would condense these into:

  • Evangelize/Promotion
  • Communication/Education
  • Connections
  • Exchange of Ideas

The addition of an evangelism/promotion goal for attendees that is separate from the communication and recognition goals of the conference is important. It separates the needs of the conference to establish it’s self as a trusted resource and venue for professional activities from the need of the attendees to self promote and market. Yet it recognizes that there is an opportunity to allow companies and individuals access to a captive audience.

  • Communicate/Educate
    This can be research results, new products, new design, development or testing techniques, new ideas, etc. It can be about education and learning. It is the main
  • Exchange Ideas
    To encourage the excitement, simultaneity, and ad-hoc in the halls discussions between people.
  • Connect
    To provide networking, partnership, and collaboration opportunities between the participants, companies, organizers and co-workers that last beyond the conference.
  • Recognize
    To celebrate outstanding work and research of the members of the community. The conference itself may represent the recognition of excellence by acceptance of a talk.
  • Promote/Evangelize
    Share information about your company and your personal brand. The goal is separate from recognition, because it allows for recruiting, marketing, and lead generation.

The interesting part for me is “that last beyond the duration of the conference”. The ability to distribute content like Mix09, TED, and Mesh Conference allow participants and a community to grow and share the content. Social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, and Identi.ca make it easier to connect, stay connected and have ongoing conversations. There are tools like Ning, CrowdVine, and EventVue that make it easier to build custom community connection points for conference attendees.

If you could define the perfect conference agenda what would it be? What would be the events? What about the rooms? The layout of the food? What sort of technology? How much would it cost?

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