Conferences and value | acidlabs Studios
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Conferences and value

Conferences and value

You know, conferences, for all their imagined value sometimes aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. The signal to noise ratio ends up being way out of whack and you walk away after two or three days thinking you’d have been better off saving your money and staying at work. There are more than a few conferences that strike me as being mostly noise.

I don’t intend to name names, but there conference organisers in Australia (and probably everywhere else) that seem intent on latching onto the newest, hottest topics and whipping together a flashy, heavily sponsored event that costs an arm and a leg for attendees. They predetermine the agenda based on the cool topic of the month and go looking for speakers that seem to fit the bill, finding them on LinkedIn or some other online community (I’ve been approached this way in the past). They often seem to get qualified speakers, yet those speakers aren’t always the best person to present. They don’t reward the speakers in any way despite the sponsorship they have for the event. On the other hand, guys like Eric Scheid can organise and run something like Oz-IA on the smell of an oily rag and still cover speaker travel and accommodation (which is frankly, amazing).

It beats me how these people, who actually aren’t passionate about the subject matter and aren’t doing this for anything more than the dollars the conference can make them are able to attract any of the sponsors, speakers or attendees. Yet they can. Frankly, it’s annoying.

Now my rant is over, there is a bright side. There are a small number of conferences that are incredible valueOz-IA, Web Directions North and South, IA Summit, Office 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 are all on the list of conferences I consider must attends if you have the chance. I’m hoping to get to at least a couple of the North American conferences next year – ideally as a presenter. I have proposals in for Enterprise 2.0 and am working on some material I hope to get accepted for Office 2.0 and a couple of other conferences in 2008.

I’ll definitely be attending the Australian conferences in 2008, especially as I’ve missed Web Directions South the past two years due to other commitments. I’m pretty much committed to attend Ross Dawson‘s Enterprise 2.0 Executive Forum on February 19. For a half-day event, it looks incredibly meaty and there are some very smart people attending and speaking who really know their stuff.

I think that there are a few measures for good conferences:

  • Do you get to catch up with your industry colleagues and friends face-to-face?
  • Do you get exposed to new or evolving thought on subjects you’re interested in?
  • Do you get to see things related to your work that you don’t get a chance to see every day?
  • Do you get to meet new people whose work and personality interest and excite you?

I’m sure there are an equal or larger number of measures I’ve missed, but these are the ones that do it for me.

What about you? What conferences give you great value? How do you measure that value?

Stephen Collins
No Comments
  • Gary Barber
    Posted at 16:38h, 27 December Reply

    NOt had he chance to get to overseas conferences mainly due to my location.

    Getting to an East Coast Conference in itself can be very costly in lost business time and accommodation and travel. Hence I pick and choose carefully.

    I know exactly what you are talking about. Getting the speaker mix and the integrating the social and the speakers such that the conference just doesn’t end after the sun goes down is a critical factor. The amount of discussion on presented topics that occur in the corridor and well in to the evening is the sign of a good conference.

    Of all the conferences I have attended over the years (in Australia) only Web Directions and OZIA have ever managed to pull this off. From your check list they deliver on all counts.

    Other conferences (in Australia) tout themselves as the “rock concert” for web geeks. But frankly they are just lame insular in comparison to these two conferences.

    To often I see conferences if a list of corporate CEO’s CIO’s etc for speakers being touted as experts in the web industry. I avoid these fake cash cow conferences like the plague. Often have I seen these presenters fall apart if one technical or real expert asks a question.

    A good conference delivers real practicing speakers who are working just like you and me in the industry.

  • Matthew Hodgson
    Posted at 06:35h, 28 December Reply

    Ahhh, egos and cash cows. Let’s have conferences of great substance and less of opinion and the quickly-waving-look-at-me-hands.

    @Gary I suspect that if we asked a few of these presenters about their actual experience and delivery they wouldn’t have a penny to show for it.


  • Web Worker Daily » Archive Open Thread: What Was Worth It in 2007? «
    Posted at 08:01h, 28 December Reply

    […] often require big investments of time and money. Information Architect Stephen Collins muses that they aren’t always worth it: You know, conferences, for all their imagined value sometimes aren’t all they’re cracked up to […]

  • John Allsopp
    Posted at 09:32h, 29 December Reply


    thanks for the very nice words about Web Directions. All the conferences you name in a positive light have one thing in common – they are put on by passionate, knowledgeable people, whose primary motivation is to help develop their industry. In time if you are lucky it can become more than a labour of love!

    The other conferences are typically run by companies that are great at the logistics of conferences – and tend to have excellent marketing relationships, skills and resources. But their motivations are, as you observe, typically quite different – for them it’s a business first. And that’s largely how the world works 🙂

    An important thing to note is for the conferences you mention to last, they need to become sustainable – you simply can’t keep it up indefinitely if it is paying pot washer rates, as it will typically do for some time (if you are *lucky*) when you start out. We’ve seen a lot of of great conferences wither on the vine for precisely that reason.

    Anyway, thanks again for the kind words – the positive feedback (and much much more support) we get from so many attendees is a big part of why we keep doing it!


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