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Conferences need a wobble

It’s been a busy few weeks for me and conferences. Attending a few back-to-back has made me think about the format that almost every conference follows and whether it’s such a great format after all. My thinking is that they should be shorter and more interactive: conferences need a wobble.

At the end of October I attended and ran a workshop at WordCamp Cape Town. In early November I attended the Scrum Gathering for two days. Then I spent three days at UX South Africa: two days MCing and half a day running a workshop. In hindsight this is clearly a bit ridiculous and I should have taken it more easy. I ended up being sick for a few days at the end of it all. It gave me some time to think, though. About what I thought about conferences in general and how I might attend conferences differently next time.

Here are some things that I would try and keep in mind if I was involved in running a conference.

  • Shorter > longer.
    • 1 day is better than 2 days. You can be more clearly all killer, no filler. It’s also a bit easier for people to get the time off work to attend.
    • 10am - 3am is better than 9am - 5pm. It’s hard to keep your brain running at full speed all day.
  • Less > more.
    • Have fewer sessions and longer breaks. Fewer sessions means less to try and cram into your brain. Longer breaks more more time for “the hallway track” (aka talking to other attendees).
  • Active > passive.
    • Prefer workshops to talks. Prefer talks with interactive, practical, elements to old school ones.
    • Help people connect to each other by (lightly) facilitating the opening and the breaks.
  • Slow > fast.
    • Mark out space for taking it slow and reflecting. This could be a biggish block at the end of the day or smallish ones after each talk.

Here are some thing I’m going to do as an attendee at my next conference.

  • Take and share my (sketch)notes. I often make them (here are some of my sketchnotes), but I’m a bit lax about posting them. I hope it will encourage other people to make and share their notes too.
  • Don’t get to every session. Pick a session or two to miss and spend that time reflecting on the sessions I did go to. Makes some plans on how to use the stuff that I learned.
  • Try and use the breaks and lunch in a more constructive way. Specifically to talk more about the sessions and figure out what I learned and what I want to do with it.

This is all part of my ongoing obsession with how amazing Training From The Back Of The Room is and how I try and bring the ideas into the talks and workshops and MCing that I do.