- provide a response to the poll below (won't show in an RSS feed - sorry)
- provide suggestions for what you'd like to see in future conferences (add comment).
I am talking to conference organizers fairly often and I'm sure they'd love to hear your frank opinions.
If you've been a reader of my blog for a while, you may have figured out that I'm almost continually surprised by what I consider to be obvious problems with the conferences I regularly attend - and no offense to the eLearningGuild, ASTD, etc. - because most conferences have these same problems.
Certainly a big part of the issue is that attendees are quite willing to hop on a plane to attend a conference, but are much less willing to spend time preparing. If you talk to any conference organizer, they will tell you that it's almost impossible to get people to spend time ahead of a conference preparing. So, while my suggestions in Be an Insanely Great Professional Conference Attendee, Conference Preparation and Better Questions for Learning Professionals may be theoretically correct, in practice they don't stand a chance.
But this really does make you wonder. And, I'm not alone. Dave Pollard tells us:
And, don't tell me that you've not felt that you could have spent your hour's worth of time in a session in front of a computer and received much more value by just searching on the keywords being used in the session.
The self-initiated learner can now often learn more in an hour's online research than in an hour listening to the most profound and articulate expert. And while some don't have the skill or interest in doing such research, and are willing to pay money to hear someone step them through something they could teach themselves for free in the same time, the freeing of information has raised expectations and lowered the satisfaction of many audiences with formal conference presentations and panels.
Now, I'm personally not ready to throw in the towel on conferences. I still feel that Face to Face Still Matters. But I believe we need to see some changes in order to make the conference experience a better use of time.
Some some initial thoughts/suggestions -
1. Experts Only Time
Most conferences attract 50% newbies. So most sessions have to bring along newbies. Let the newbies have their time, but create opportunities for the experts to exchange.
Mark Oehlert and Tom Crawford suggested that we do a day prior to the conference and only invite experts. We are all willing to help make this happen. We think that doing this similar to an unconference style or doing it around The Big Question type topics where we get to exchange ideas with other experts in the field would be a fantastic learning and networking experience.
2. Unconference within a Conference
Unconferences allow the participants to present themselves on particular topics. I'd suggest we learn from this kind of exchange, but that we do it a little different. Here's my current thinking:
- Have a morning of the first day session aimed at a particular audience segment, e.g., managers of corporate eLearning, facilitated by me and someone else that will help them identify their key issues, big questions and also identify topics they would want to discuss with others, what they would be willing to present as a case study to be discussed, or a topic where they might want to lead a discussion. Alone, this would have value in just identifying what they need to focus on. A mini strategic planning session.
- We would then take these topics and establish cracker-barrel sessions that look at particular issues, e.g., how do you structure your eLearning production, centralized vs. distributed. You could probably do 25 minute exchanges in small groups around these topics and get tremendous value from each other. Yes, this would take a lot more work. No you don't get to just sit in the audience. But, wouldn't this be a good use of time?
- Also, wouldn't it be great to have this list of issues just to know what everyone is facing. And as a presenter, it would be great to know the key issues that people are facing.
I'm not sure that I know how to make this happen for more attendees, but Beer Tasting at ASTD TechKnowledge, Boston, Beer - Bloggers - Learn.com and similar things at ASTD in Atlanta were definitely fun. Getting together with other experts over some beer was great. Having a really great Southern dinner at ASTD and talking about the implications of eLearning 2.0 was great.
Part of this is being able to connect with people who you will have good conversations with. Part of this is having fun activities that are actually fun and allow for good conversation. Food and beer/wine seem to help. But the typical conference thing, with a little bit of food and one drink ticket (and why just one - how about 3 or 4 - and add that into the cost) just doesn't work all that well. And finding people to talk to around particular topics never seems to work either. And, I'm not convinced that Conference Networking Tools really helps with this.
4. Passionate Keynotes aimed at Us
There's some really incredible stuff going on in our field right now. Learning is changing. Technology for learning is changing. This is an exciting time to be part of this field. While Jim Collins was inspiring at ASTD (and probably much more inspiring if you haven't read Good to Great). However, there's a big leap from what he was talking about to taking action as a member of this community.
While I know that getting big name speakers is a tried-and-true formula for conferences, I'm tired of feeling like I'm seeing entertainment rather than getting value. I'd much rather hear from luminaries in our industry talking about real issues that we are facing and firing us up about the real opportunities. Or maybe I'm the only one who is excited about what's happening here.
One of the reasons for my recent Big Question - Examples of eLearning? was that it is often hard to see demonstrations of what everyone else is doing. I like that the eLearningGuild at DevLearn has done a room full of demonstrations in the past. Some are really good. Some not as good. I liked going to a presentation by the folks from Brandon Hall that showed demonstrations of award winning projects. However, as I discussed in Award for the Best and Worst Presentation - the fact that the people weren't there to give context made it frustrating. What would be even better is to invite a few folks like Will Thalheimer to a session where some different pieces were presented and we could hear what's good and bad about them. Another good one with demonstrations is Judy Brown showing a bunch of mobile learning applications.
One thing that I would require as a conference organizer is to have demonstrations near the beginning of a session. How many sessions do you sit through a lot of blah, blah waiting for them to demo something cool? Then they finally demo near the end and it's not interesting at all.
6. Expert (or Crowd) Produced Cheat Sheets for Sessions and Expo
As I wandered around the expo hall at ASTD, what I really wanted was help in finding anything that was new/different. Seeing a bunch of custom vendors, niche off-the-shelf content folks, etc., made it hard to find much that was new or different. Because Bob Becker from Becker Multimedia had approached me before the conference, I at least got to see his device used to record customer interactions on something that looks like an iPod and then you can use the recording much like you do in a call center. A good idea. Something new and different.
But, what else was new and different in the expo? What would be worth checking out? The way you find out is by talking to people informally over lunch or dinner. Why don't we have a few experts ahead of the conference talk to the vendors and create a cheat sheet to help us make sense of the expo? Or we could allow attendees to post (twitter?) with cool things they are finding?
Doing this for sessions would be a bit more difficult, because it would have to be done ahead of the session. Finding out over lunch that there was a great session that you missed doesn't help. So, again, maybe we rely on experts ahead of time to go through the content that is going to be presented and create notes, a cheat sheet or something like that. It might help the presenters too. We could also allow things to be tagged with something like - demo at the end. But even better would be demo at the end and probably not worth seeing.
7. Free Wifi
Need I say more on this.
Okay, what did I miss? Add a comment below. And please fill in the poll.