The Fall conference season is starting, but what is your attitude to conferences? Do you sign up as an enthusiastic delegate? Do you feel you need to attend, but resent the time away from the family? Or are you a conscientious objector who stays at home catching up via conference videos and blogs?

Flawed thinking

Maybe you’re thinking about conferences the wrong way.  And organisers need to take note.

It costs a ton of time and money to go to a conference. So, other than the parties and freebies, why go? If you cast your mind back to last year’s – or last month’s – conference, what do you remember?

Now, social media is starting to change the nature of conferences.

Presentations: Before it was about listening to sessions. Now they are available streamed in perfect quality on YouTube or the conference website. Or at least the slide decks are available for download.
Coverage:  Analysts, bloggers and delegates will all be tweeting and blogging during the sessions for the benefit of delegates and those stay-at-homes. Which means the organizer needs to provide wifi and a room which is not pitch black.
Networking: Before you might make a few valuable contacts. Now with Twitter and Facebook you form offline relationships before the event. And at the event you meet the people face to face. Putting a face to the gravatar and finding out if they match up to their online profile….
Organization: The set up of the conference needs to reflect these changes. The agenda needs to allow for more networking,  the venue needs wifi to enable people to connect, and there should be space for informal meetings.  Finally, the organizers should not be overly concerned if people are not attending sessions, but instead are engaged in conversations with other delegates.

This means that the conference starts well before the actual day (making contacts, arranging to meet) and lasts beyond the event (listening to sessions, reading blogs).

So next conference, focus on engaged conversations. The one on one discussions of what someone is working on. Helping a friend think about a a project approach or solve a thorny  problem. Discover why it is the CMO not the CIO with the IT budget. Sneaking out to go to a coffee shop with a very cool CEO…

Small talk or engaged conversations?

Want some ideas to break the ice and get beyond small talk?  Take a look at this TED blog

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