The changing face of conferences
||Posted by Dave Beesley, Senior Account Manager
In the B2B technology industry, you invariably attend a lot of conferences – either in a client support role or in a personal capacity to keep informed about the latest industry developments. However, sometimes it seems hard to distinguish one conference from another. We are constantly told of the latest and greatest conference line-ups, with wonderful topics being covered by a group of experts.
The trouble is that once you’ve been to one or two conferences, they can begin to blur into one long continuous dreamlike event of hundreds of likeminded people, packed into a room suffering a slow death by PowerPoint.
Thankfully, I am pleased to say that two recent conferences attended by members of the ITPR team have taken a completely different approach to the format. Gone were the large screens with fancy presentations that have been designed to supposedly keep you visually entertained. Gone was the sole speaker at the front with a headset microphone, talking endlessly to an audience who is now questioning why they attended the conference in the first place. Gone was the awkward Q&A session at the end where people are encouraged to stand up in front of hundreds of people to ask a question.
What I found in place of all these things when I attended a recent conference on Web Analytics was small groups of no more than 15-18 people, led by a notable industry practitioner having an open discussion of the challenges they each faced in their respective roles and discussing – true dialogue! – different solutions to their challenges.
It was like someone had switched on a light bulb! Each small session lasted 90mins, which after introductions and summary of the key issues was plenty of time to generate informed discussion about real life problems and solutions. Delegates were involved, actively contributing and reacting positively to the more intimate format. Not a single PowerPoint in sight.
Similarly, at Digital Shoreditch (see previous blog here), the whole conference was based on a principle of free movement around multiple simultaneous speaker sessions – making individual speakers competitive, trying to grab and hold onto interest and not lose audience members.
The web analytics conference was one of the most insightful industry conferences I have been to. I left feeling that I had genuinely benefited from the conference and made some great contacts in the process. Discussions regularly spilled over into coffee breaks and meal times and there was even one occasion when an impromptu group formed after lunch to have a 30 minute discussion and continue debating a topic from one of the scheduled group meetings.
I wasn’t alone in my opinion either. My peers all commented on how this format had resulted in one of the most useful conferences they had attended all year. Whilst we’re only just approaching being halfway through 2012, it seems that taking a more personal approach to get the most out of large conferences could be the future.