Friday, 6 June 2008

Conference Balance

Just read a great post by Clive Shepherd - Cutting the Pie - where he discusses what the appropriate balance is at conferences. As you know creating Better Conferences is something that very much interests me. Check out that post, the poll results and the discussion for lots of ideas on how to make conferences better. But Clive's major point is that at today's conferences the mix is:

His definitions are:
  • ideas - presentations from gurus, experts and thought leaders, primarily abstract in nature.
  • examples - case studies from users, sharing successes and lessons learned.
  • participation - opportunities for attendees to interact with each other to explore the ideas, share their own experiences and make contacts that can take follow-up after the event.
He'd like to see a balance:

This is interesting timing for me having just returned from the ASTD Conference. That conference was certainly the old model - mostly ideas and examples. Very little participation. But in fairness to ASTD - it seems like it's hard to get participation when 70% of attendees are relatively new to the industry and are first time attendees.

I personally tried (a little) to create my own participation ahead of the event through getting together at conferences. But I wasn't very successful.

I've always highly encourage participation, but my general sense is that people aren't really that interested in doing the Conference Preparation that might be required to Be an Insanely Great Professional Conference Attendee or using Social Conference Tools

So while I agree, my basic question:
When can you get effective participation at conferences?
It seems like the eLearningGuild is doing a better job at this recently. There were morning discussion groups last time that I thought were great. They are starting to do more with online tools. I think that conferences really need to adopt a mentality of having unconferences within a conference structure to allow for participation of all kinds intermixed with ideas and examples.

I'd be curious to hear thoughts on this as I always struggle with whether going to a conference is worth the investment of time.

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