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A Better Conference

By Steve Jones,

I participate in a lot of events during the year. I had the SQL in the City event from Red Gate recently, with more of those coming to the US later this year. In 2013 I've also been a part of SQL Intersection, the online-only spring IT Connections event, various SQL Saturdays, and attended the MVP Summit from Microsoft. In the past I've also spoken or attended TechEd, the PASS Summit, and various one, two, and three day events that didn't necessarily focus on one specific technology. In that time, I haven't seen a lot of difference between the various conferences organization and flow. some little things have been tried, and some I liked, but overall most events consist of:

  • a series of "tracks", which are really rooms in a building.
  • a 60-90 minute presentation of varying quality from a speaker, built months in advance, with little input from the audience.
  • shuttling from one session to another quickly

There are other parts of the events, parties at night, sometimes networking, keynotes, lunch panels, etc, but for the most part organizers pick a location, choose to have x number of rooms, and choose speakers to present in those spaces, largely on the basis of their own biases or desire to learn about a specific topic. Even when attendees vote for content, they only affect a small portion of the agenda.

Could we do better? I don't know. I saw this post on a better conference and it got me thinking. Perhaps there are other ways we could build conferences. Would it make sense to link sessions together, and build on knowledge across the day? What about getting a panel of speakers to respond to real scenarios and questions from the audience, possibly submitted a few days or hours before? That would raise the bar for speakers, and it might be more entertaining. I'm not sure the quality would be better, especially if demos are hastily thrown together. 

However the post has an interesting point. Conferences and many sessions ought to be more about engagement and inspiration and less about training you to use a particular piece of technology. Perhaps we would like to find ways to interact more, discuss and debate ideas and approaches rather than broadcast information. Would you like more interactive content? Or do you prefer to sit back and listen to what the speaker thinks is important?

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