Last week, I published three blog posts on innovating professional conferences (part 1, part 2, part 3) and I appreciate the conversations that they began. A few people left comments on Twitter and Facebook, and I want to capture their ideas here.
Jan Holmquist suggests using face-to-face sessions to give participants a problem to solve and have them create solutions in the moment. While that might not work for every conference session, Jan believes that it could work for some. Imagine a conference where you hear a keynote on a specific topic, learn more in other sessions, then attend a session where you put what you have learned to practice to solve a practical problem. I can imagine people being interested in that type of conference or conference track.
Richard Hulser wants us to be back to the "smaller, more
compact version of conferences that existed many years ago." For this to occur, I think conferences need to have a real focus and not try to be all things to all people. The innovation would be trimming sessions and topics, rather than adding.
Heather Braum noted that conferences are dependent on the topics and presenters selected. Some conference solicit proposals for conference sessions, while others have conference organizers who reach out to possible presenters. Both methods can yield very worthwhile and forward-thinking conference, or conferences that are not as inspiring as they could be. It takes a conference organizer or organizing committee who is focused on innovations (in the field applicable to the conference) to ensure that the conference is teaching knowledge, skills and abilities which are relevant to the participants' future.
One problem with conferences is that some plan their conference sessions 12 or more months in advance. That can mean that the organizers select topics that won't be forward-thinking, relevant or even interesting by the time the conference is held. Deciding on conference sessions 6-9 months before the conference likely feels like a "mad scramble", but it allows the organizers to better select themes, topics and speakers that will be more relevant.
Putting on a conference is more work than more people realize. Having conference organizers who are willing to innovate, rather than delivering the same experience from a decade ago, would improve them as a professional development opportunity. If you're a conference organizer, are you up for the challenge?