Social Mediators 8 – What do you want from a conference?

It’s conference season. And we’ve all gone to conferences that we loved – and conferences that we hated.

In this week’s episode of Social Mediators, Terry Fallis, Dave Fleet and I discuss what makes a good conference experience – and what can ruin a conference.

One good idea and I’m happy

I don’t just attend conferences because I love Las Vegas hotels (I don’t) or seaside resorts (I do.) I take time out of our schedules for much more practical and worthwhile reasons. I want to hear from leading edge thinkers and network with others who share common interests.

I’m happy if one simple need is met: I want at least one good new idea from each speaker. If I get that, the conference is worthwhile. If not, I’ll exercise the law of two feet and head out to do some work.

So, I’m easy to please. Give me great content and I’m a happy camper.

My personal hit list

Now to the other side. Things that detract from the conference experience. As a frequent conference attendee, there are some things that really bug me.

1) The conference within a conference. By invitation-only dinners and get aways for speakers and sponsors that are obvious to paying participants. We pay good money for a conference. We don’t want to feel like second class participants.

2) The conference with an unstated agenda. The worst of these are conferences that bring business together with government. You can get the feeling that you’re merely a prop in someone else’s GR campaign.

3) Panellists who think that they’ve given value merely by showing up. Conferences like SxSW which use a panel picker have seen a real slide in the quality of many panels, as a noticeable number of panelists seem to place their greatest effort into campaigning to be selected, not in preparing their presentations.

4) The biggest annoyance of all: Product pitches from sponsors who become speakers. When I speak, I rarely mention my company name. I’m there to educate, not to do a product pitch from the stage. And I don’t expect others to abuse their time on the stage.

And what about you?

What makes a conference a good experience for you?

What are the things that detract from the conference-going experience?

  • As someone who both speaks at and organizes a number of conferences, I thoroughly agree with all the group’s points in the discussion. I especially like your list of things you *don’t* like at conferences, Joe.

    I was once invited onto a panel at a very large international conference for which I spent a lot of time preparing. In the end I was only given 5 minutes to speak which was extremely frustrating. I later found out they weren’t so much concerned with my thoughts; they had added me to the panel to make sure I attended the conference and (I am guessing) to make sure they hit certain representative groups on the speaker list. I wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or insulted. But I certainly learned about hidden agendas.

  • Agree with #3. I attended a number of panels at SXSW this year and several were not all that great. (A lot of them were, however.) I don’t attend many conferences, so I don’t have a lot of experience to draw on; I’d like to use my SXSW experience this year to highlight a couple of things.

    At a conference as big as SXSW, I think it would be really helpful for the presenters to be able to categorize their presos as high level/intro, down “in the weeds” about a particular topic, strictly Q&A, etc. That would help me 1) pick the presos I want/need to attend and 2) set my expectations appropriately.