I have attended a lot of conferences and events over the course of my career. The last year alone was busy with conferences hosted by vendors, analyst firms, associations, and motivated people. After watching a particularly busy conference week on twitter I realized something.
Most vendor conferences stink.
Seriously. Most are simply training. You go for product updates and see what is coming down the road. Even if you filter through the marketing, you only get facts on how to make the tool do the job better. You don’t actually become better.
As for the other conferences, there is a lot of variation. The key variable? Great conferences are about ideas, imagination, passion, and inspiration.
Ideas Make Us Think
When I spend the time and effort to attend a conference, I want a new idea or two that I can ponder. I want to be able to talk to people about those ideas and reach a new understanding. I want something that I can take home and make a real difference to both my company and my clients.
- Ideas about new approaches to old problems.
- Ideas about removing the hurdles present in every project.
- Ideas to make my team better.
Conferences that deliver ideas deliver value. The cost to attend is paid back in months and I spend the intervening year until the next conference reaching out to fellow attendees to discuss even more ideas.
Imagination Frees Us
This is beyond mere ideas. This is about being able to relax, enjoy the community that attends the conference, and spin tales about what-if scenarios. This is building a story about the future, a time where today’s biggest challenges are solved and we are focused on advancing forward.
- Imagine being able to deliver the perfect story to prospects.
- Imagine being able to find any information you need regardless of where you are.
- Imagine not running out of battery life.
Many will discount this part of the conference experience. I find it is absolutely critical. It is this lateral thinking that frees the mind to come up with more ideas. Imagination gives us a target to strive towards. It is also fun.
Passion To Drive Us
Most people at these conferences enjoy their careers. Even so, there are days where we wonder why we are still fighting the same fight. We wonder if we are ever going to get to that future we imagined. Passion pulls us through those moments and that passion is refueled at a good conference.
- Passion to fuel those long days.
- Passion to solve those challenging problems.
- Passion to inspire the next generation.
There needs to be time where everyone can relax and share in fun and their passion. There need to be opportunities during the day as well. The best part of any good conference is sharing passion with each other and that shouldn’t have to wait until the evening. Conferences need to have fun, even if it is quirky. No matter how hard we try to hide it, none of us are normal.
Inspiration to Enrich Us
When I see a keynote, I want to be inspired. I want imaginative ideas coming at me from a passionate speaker. I want to not only be able to do better, I want to want to do better. I want to have so many things to accomplish that my to-do list becomes impossibly long.
- Inspiration to motivate.
- Inspiration to be better than I thought I could be.
- Inspiration to innovate.
Inspiration can come from many places and in many ways. What matters is having people that can deliver that inspiration. There is nothing better than leaving a keynote or session and talking to other attendees about how we can all go out and do better.
First, unless it is part of my job, I am not attending another vendor conference. All the relevant news can usually be extracted from blogs afterwards. If I have to go to a vendor conference to learn things, then I will be there. My expectation will be that of any other workday. I will save my time and money for conferences that make a difference in my life.
This includes events at which I speak. Not simply the ones I attend.
As for speaking, I am going to focus more on these four elements. I am going to try and insert fun. If it is a briefing because of necessity, I will still slide some good things into the timeslot.
If you speak at conferences, ask yourself these simple questions,
How are the people listening to me going to feel when they leave the room? Will the key points of my talk resonate with them for days, weeks, months, or minutes?
As attendees, demand more, provide real feedback, and only attend those conferences that make a difference to you. Conferences shouldn’t be about getting away from the office.
A good conference makes you excited about going back to the office.