A New Approach to Conferences

11 08 2008

In this new age of online video, endless podcasts and a super-active blogosphere I’ve been pondering the purpose of traveling to conferences.  I know a lot of people get a charge out of “just being there” (I’m not one of them) and others are amazing networkers who can develop deep relationships over the course of a weekend (this is very difficult for introverts like me in large venues) but what about the rest of us?

There are new types of conferences that are worth traveling to but they are few and far between.

So I want to layout three types of conferences and describe the direction technology should be shifting us toward.

Type 1 – Blessing Conferences. About 95% of conferences attendance seems to be represented by this type.  You get 2-5 famous speakers/authors (and assorted workshop leaders) to discuss certain topics and share the expense across a large number of people.

  • Effectiveness Scale 3 – Because there is no real continuity between what many are saying and most of the content is available in books and mp3s it doesn’t tend to change people deeply.
  • Technology Scale 1 – Almost all of these talks are available for free or low cost afterward meaning technology actually makes is more convenient not to go.
  • Networking Scale 2 – The crowd and venues make networking a very tough thing and the schedule is usually fairly full.  But because these draw large numbers there’s a decent chance someone will be there you’ve wanted to connect with.
  • Hype Scale 9 – This is the real secret to these conferences.  The large amount of money allows for high scale marketing and high profile speakers creating an air of “I just can’t miss it” that many fall into.

Type 2 – Brainstorming Conferences (sometimes called summits or mastermind sessions).  About 2% of all conference attendance is this type.  This is where you get a group of 5-20 innovators to develop solutions for a common problem.  These tend to be invitation only.

  • Effectiveness Scale 4 – There is a chance you will leave more confused than when you came but creating mastermind sessions can also lead to unexpected breakthroughs.
  • Technology Scale 8 – Technology can not substitute for the kind of synergy created by a group of practitioners in a war-room for hours with whiteboards.
  • Networking Scale 9 – After these sessions you know each other quite well and learn to rely on each other’s strengths.  Life-long relationships are likely to form.
  • Hype Scale 6 – It’s quite exciting to be invited to these but since no real money is being made it takes a person a lot of foresight to organize these.

Type 3 – Building Conferences
(sometimes called bootcamps).  About 3% of conference attendance is this type.  This is where a group of highly motivated people have decided to do something very narrow and specific (start a business, plant a church, learn a new skill etc.) and they are being trained by one person or team to immediately put into practice what they are learning.

  • Effectiveness Scale 9 – These tend to have a huge impact on people since the training is very focused on a specific outcome and the kind of questions and interaction is extremely practical
  • Technology Scale 6 – You can reproduce some of this technologically but because these tend to be small conferences and you will be implementing what you are learning its great to be able to ask your specific questions and interact directly with people who have been there and have done what you’re about to do.  Also, these sessions are often not made available online.
  • Networking Scale 8 – Since the group is small and everyone in the room has either done what you are about to do (the trainers) or is about to do it (the trainees) the relationships you will easily create will be extremely valuable.
  • Hype Scale 4 – The marketing is usually fairly lax because the target audience is so small and it requires them to be already bought in (so marketing isn’t as important).

Isn’t the conclusion obvious?  If you only have the time or money to go to 1-3 conferences per year go to Brainstorming and especially Building conferences and download 6+ Blessing conferences to supplement.

But this shift has not been made yet and I’m hoping by pointing this out I might do a tiny bit to move this change along




2 responses

11 08 2008
Gregory Pittman

Interesting thoughts. I think the stats you cite are likely anecdotal (correct me if I’m wrong). I don’t know of any conferences that fit only in category 1, the “blessing” conferences. Most that I am aware of combine categories 1 and 3. The WorshipGod conferences by Sovereign Grace certainly exemplify the best of 1 and 3. I find them well worth the time and effort to attend. They’re always themed and each of the sessions is closely intertwined with the others.

I think if you spend all of your time in category 3 conferences, burnout will quickly ensue because you’ll have little or no time to perfect or build on whatever it is you’re building. I’m not suggesting they’re not worthwhile. I’m just saying there isn’t a practical or helpful way to make them the only type of conference one attends.

14 08 2008

Hi Gregory,

Combining 1 and 3 would be a good way to transition Blessing conferences into more Building conferences. I’ve never been to a combo Blessing and Building conference (I’ve been to many blessing conferences).

Again, a building conference is like a bootcamp where you are being intensely trained to immediately do a specific thing that everyone in the room will be doing as well.

This is for the purpose of perfecting something. Often once you’ve begun to successfully do what you’ve been trained to do you return to the building conference as a trainer or put on your own small bootcamps.

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