What Makes a Great Conference?

I’ve been asking around on email and on the social networks what makes a conference memorable, special, or amazing.  This topic has my special interest, not only because I attend between 20-25 conferences per year, but also because I’m trying to help make the DARE 2013 conference in Antwerp, Belgium a great experience.

The obvious replies that people usually have are “amazing speakers” and “great hallway conversations”. I agree, and there’s plenty that organizers already do (or should do) to make that happen. But personally, I am more and more convinced that “greatness” is an emergent result of the complex interplay of little things.

Here are some suggestions I received:

  • Have great coffee available during the conference. (Johan Oskarsson)
  • Have dinner with strangers at the end of a conference day so that attendees get to know each other better (Ángel Medinilla)
  • Let people rate speakers directly after their sessions, and repeat the best session at the end of the conference. (Tiago Andrade e Silva)
  • Use feedback/happiness doors to capture quick feedback after each session.
  • Do phone interviews of speakers and edit their descriptions to match the audience. (Lee Copeland)
  • Have an icebreaker party before the conference with a jam session of speakers and organizers. (Alexey Krivitsky)
  • Print people’s first names on badges in big letters, and on both sides of the badge. (Jon Jagger)
  • Use conference apps so that people can easily see the program on their smartphones and mark their favorite sessions.

And there’s much more, ranging from the very obvious, such as give away free books, to the somewhat-less-obvious, such as invite a circus act.

There are three weeks left until DARE 2013. The number of participants is growing steadily, while time is shrinking fast. I’m afraid we cannot implement all ideas people have suggested. But we’re trying hard to hear at least those three most important words, “That was great!”

p.s. I have a discount code for friends. Contact me.

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