I’ve had this article open in a tab since, well it was published. I’ve been wanting to comment on it, since I don’t think it’s 100% right. YOu can read the entire thing at the HBR site, but I’ll paste the main points
1. Conferences and meetings should tell unique stories.
True, sorta. While we definitely don’t fit the writer’s model of how conferences are created, we still make a lot of decisions ourselves. We look at conferences as “what will people take away” not “What will they get”. Sure they’ll get Chotchkies, and whatever else our sponsors want to provide. But they’ll take away, more knowledge than they can even imagine gor the price they paid to get in the door. They’ll take away connections that lead to new work, new hires, new open source projects, new companies, etc. So while you can make your conference tell a story, I think the value is the event, not the story,whatever that is. The people, the connections, that’s where the value is.
2. Conferences should be for, by, and about the attendees.
i agree completely! We often mock events that have “steering committees” because if the organizer knew their audience, their community, they wouldn’t need a committee to help them select content. They wouldn’t have to ask publicly “Who’s the big name in the industry?” They’d know. If they didn’t know they’d know who to ask, and know how to find them. And that’s for speakers, it would be one thing if it was a keynote or special one off type thing, but not even knowing enough about the community to find speakers? Well that’s not us.
Tom and I call our events, for and by developers, because that’s where our roots lie. Tom still writes code for a living, and I write it from time to time when we need something simple done, we manage our own websites, and SQL DBs, etc. There’s no “Team” supporting us. We think this gives us not only an insight into developers needs and wants, but also allows us to relate.
3. Conferences should be about more than just eating and sitting
While eating is definitely high on Tom’s list of priorities, we do agree that sitting in sessions, and sitting at lunch, are not the most important parts of a conference. More often than not, our lunch setups don’t include seating, we’d rather people have to find a seat in the crowd, just sit down somewhere next to other people. Banquet rounds have a countering effect to that usually. Sometimes it can’t be helped, when the venue has a “Lunch area” that you just can’t avoid.
At night we throw a party (sponsor supported), rather than have a half dozen seperate parties, or no parties, we throw one, one that everyone is welcome to attend, one that has food and drinks, Rock Band and conversation. We sometimes have BOF sessions, and sometimes people go off into the break out rooms to plan, write code, and talk quietly. The bottom line though is we’re all together, there’s no need for small cliques to go off on their own (very un-community) for lunch or dinner, when we’d rather everyone hang out and talk. It’s amazing to see people move from group to group having incredibly cool conversations at every stop.
So yeah there’s always room for improvement, and Tom and I endeavor to learn all the time, so each event is a learning experience, but lumping all conferences together, kinda sucks for the Indies in the crowd. I mean, web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, CFUnited, WWDC, Adobe MAX, are not even in the same park as us, and we like it that way.