WP Remix

13
May

This is a strange week for me. Normally I’d be attending one of my favorite conferences but, due to budget constraints and some other issues, I’m not.

At the same time, about 50 yards from my office my organization has an open connection to the IFC Online International Fundraising eConference. I can drop in on live interactive sessions from some of the biggest names in the business. It costs less than $300 and everyone on the team can come and go for sessions that interest them.

I hope this isn’t a sign of where my conference life is headed. I value the human interaction available in ‘traditional’ conferences quite a bit. Meeting peers, sharing ideas, breaking bread. Some of the most productive time at conferences happens when nobody is clicking thru their PowerPoint. Even better, I’ve met colleagues who stay in touch and share ideas for years and years and years.

However, if those who coordinate conferences don’t figure out a way to make them more appealing and affordable, I’m afraid the days of the national conference will be long gone. People will stay closer to home, save their funds, and invest mostly in professional development via internet connection. It’s hard to justify flying 2,000 miles, spending several thousand dollars, and find only a handful of peers on the other end who’ve done the same. I’d hate for speakers to talk to empty rooms!

So how can we avoid this?

*Conferences need to be relevant. The subject matter must be well defined and the speakers of a national caliber. Know the audience. Actually, know the intended audience and if others attend and later say the content didn’t meet their needs, that’s their problem. Don’t penalize those who chose the right conference from the start or they won’t come back either.

*The conference should be ‘as advertised’ – there’s nothing worse than having a senior-level conference that provides entry-level information or vice-versa.

*Conference fees have gotten out of hand. Choose reasonable locations with good hotel rates, easy access, and reduced costs. I need value from the experience, I don’t need lobster. I understand the value of a ‘cool’ city to drive attendance, but substance should be more important than style. $900 to register and $300 a night just isn’t going to compete with the online conference world.

*Plan ahead. On average, I receive invitations to most conferences about 2-3 months in advance. That simply isn’t enough time. Busy professionals have trouble finding 2-hour meeting slots in that range. I don’t need every single detail, but I do need more information earlier.

*Don’t sell me. Too many consultant and vendor presentations annoy me. If a vendor is going to speak, make it crystal clear they’re not to sell ANYTHING. And if they do, don’t invite them back. I think our vendor-partners have amazing insight and ideas to share and I also understand the value of their sponsorship. I want to hear from them as speakers and attendees owe them the respect of stopping by their booths and learning about their products in return. But too often the line is crossed in their presentations.

*Finally, strive for size. Times are tough, and the value many attendees receive from a conference is directly proportional to the number of attendees. More people = more networking = more good ideas. As attendance shrinks, so does the value of the conference. It’s a cycle that only ends when the last person decides he/she doesn’t want to attend alone.

Online conferences are valuable and they add to the professional development arsenal available to all of us. But I hope it won’t be our only option in the future!

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