Here are ways to make next year’s conferences even more valuable.
As the 2009 domain conference schedule draws to a close and a record number of conferences are on the schedule for 2010, I thought I’d give some general feedback on how to make conference programming better. This isn’t targeted at any particular show; it’s just some best practices I’ve picked up from attending many diverse conferences in the past ten years (from domains to intellectual property to health care technology).
1. Limit panels to three people, four tops. This doesn’t include the moderator. Any more and it’s hard to get a meaningful discussion.
2. Avoid “Sales Pitch Panels”. These are panels in which each panelist is given a lot of time at the beginning to make a presentation, usually about their company or product. Very little time is left for true discussion after they finish their sales pitches.
3. Try fireside chats. These are one-on-one chats with interesting/important people.
4. Educate your speakers. Let them know everything they need to prepare, at least several weeks in advance. They should know the detailed topic, whether they should bring a presentation, and how much time (if any) they’ll have for an intro about themselves or their company.
5. Let people pitch panels. Allow potential speakers to submit session topic proposals. Yes, they may have a business reason to lead a session, but you’ll get a lot of good ideas out of this.
6. Avoid hubris panels. These are panels thrown together by show organizers just so a few talkative people can hear themselves talk. Talk about a buzz kill.
7. Don’t oversell the programming. I’ve yet to attend a panel that has changed the world. I’ve attended lots that I’ve learned from. But even when I get a great idea from a session, a lot of other people don’t. So don’t suggest that any individual session will change everyone’s life. Instead, focus on putting together a well rounded, properly planned programming schedule.
8. Provide attendee lists. This has less to do with programming and more to do with networking. Let attendees opt-in to having their name and company affiliation listed on a pre-conference attendee list. Also hand out the list at the conference. This makes networking and setting up meetings in advance much easier. (Typically, these lists don’t include email addresses and rarely include phone numbers. If someone really wants to meet with someone, they can find their contact information through other means.)
I’m excited about next year’s conference schedule, including seeing what Rick Latona and team pull together for TRAFFIC. Now, off to AA.com to book some plane tickets…