A good conference has high quality presenters teaching on topics that matter. But a great conference brings all the right people to the same place at the same time. This is why we often see attendees who are slow to head back into the conference room after a break. They’re in conversations that matter with people they wouldn’t have seen but for the conference. And while the classes might be great and, yes, they get CLE credit for attending them, this conversation is why they came–whether they knew it at the time they registered or not.
Think back a year ago to the last time you went. What do you remember?
Do you remember the presentations that were later on videotape? Do you remember the special screenings of movies? Do you remember the crowded cocktail parties? Bumping into a net celebrity? I don’t.
So I don’t do them. At the last TED, I didn’t attend a single session. They’re fabulous, but I can always watch them later, on video. [emphasis added]
This is all great for a massive conference, like SXSW, but if our attendees stop going to classes because they can watch them online later (and ours actually can because our tuition includes later access to the digital recordings), then we’re going to have some empty classes and disheartened faculty.
So we probably don’t want our attendees to take this approach, but I don’t think his point is wrong. It’s engaging in an in-depth way with the right people that makes carving time out of your busy schedule to attend a conference worth it. And while this tells Seth he should simply ignore the programs at the conference, it tells me that conference organizers should be thinking about how to redesign their conferences to facilitate those conversations during the conference. This might mean you don’t try top cram 15 credits into a two-day conference. Or it might mean you include sessions that are too fluid and user-generated to qualify for CLE credit. Or, for topics that require a detailed approach, maybe you have attendees watch the lecture before the conference and provide a forum for discussion and interactivity at the conference.
Or maybe you do something else. What do you think?