Friday, July 03, 2009

Why Choose One Conference Over Another?

In these days when money is short, lots of people cannot afford to participate all the conferences they might have attended last year. Money may be the first criterion for choosing conferences, but it's not the only one. I'm going to three conferences this year, each chosen by different characteristics. For me, money doesn't enter into it, so my reasons might be helpful for those who can afford to be in at least one conference, but are trying to choose. my first step in choosing a conference is to eliminate the majority of conferences by applying the following guides.

What Makes Conferences Less Attractive

I generally eliminate conferences that

- overschedule event with no time or place for spontaneous meetings

- overcrowd, usually to maximize profits, with just too many people, which encourages people to hang out only with their old pals

- lack adaptability so opportunities pass by without notice or care

- offer too much lecturing, not enough interaction, and insufficient experiential work--or none at all

- invite presenters of widely varied and untested skill and preparation

- do not name their presenters in advance, or give biographical information

- provide insufficient time and space for socializing, meeting new people

- allow little or no interaction with the presenters (In some conferences, presenters eat in a special area, intentionally separated from the participants. In others, presenters speak and run.

- schedule sales pitches instead of teaching presentations

- schedule canned pitches instead of original material

- offer too many plenary sessions, when participants have no choice of what to attend

Few conferences meet all my criteria, but I look for those conferences that do, like the three (below) that I am attending this year. I have long-ago reached a stage in my life where I cannot tolerate several days sitting in an uncomfortable chair listening to someone read bullet points from PowerPoint slides.



I participated in the Conference of the Association for Software Testing (CAST) last year, and I'm returning this year because the subject of the conference is precisely focused on my current interest: promoting and improving the practice of software testing.

The sessions I attended were all of high quality and interest to me. Also, it's a reasonably small conference with numerous opportunities to participate in spontaneous hall sessions.



BizConf is a new conference this year, and I'm participating primarily because of the other participants, who, like me, are small entrepreneurs running technology businesses. It's a small conference, limited to 75 participants, and scheduled once again to encourage spontaneous hall and meal sessions. All of the presenters I know are of the highest quality.

AYE (Amplifying Your Effectiveness)


You might say I participate in AYE every year because I'm a host--one of the people who created the conference. But I wouldn't have been a host in the first place if I had been satisfied with most of the conferences available. When we designed the conference, we had several issues in mind in addition to the ones listed above. We wanted the conference to be reasonably priced, easy to reach, and easy to learn more about than could be found on a simple website. We created a wiki that registrants could write on and anybody could read. We retained a small staff of intelligent, personable people (Lois and Suzy) to give information and solve problems over the phone. I hope we've made it easy to get to AYE, and I hope to see you there or at one of the other two conferences I'll be attending.


Jon Jagger said...

Over time I find I get to prefer sessions based just as much on the presenter as the topic. So I like conferences that clearly tell about the sessions and also whose running them...

Brian said...

I'm not sure of when I last attended a "conference". I distinctly remember the Fall Joint Computer Conference of 1969 in San Francisco, and through a boozy haze, out-hustling the Playboy Club bumper-pool bunny (i. e., hustler) and her leaving in tears.

The conference itself was a blur, but I came back with a fistful of business cards, none of which proved to be of any value.

Clearly, Jerry has had better results than I.