First, I'd say that I'm a big fan of local and regional events. They present a lower cost of entry (often free) and the travel cost is reduced or eliminated. The two more subtle advantages are new speakers (I like hearing new views) and getting to meet those that are still on the low side of the learning curve (they are less likely to do a national conference).
But liking local/regional events doesn't mean there isn't a place for a national event. Part of that is there is no other way to get together the group of people I call friends, PASS is our link! We're dispersed across the US and more, so if we only regional events we'd see a smaller set of friends (though I realize that we're going to be meeting new people regardless of the event size/location). The other part is that it's healthy and even necessary to have an event that serves as a goal for the best and brightest in our profession.
So, does a bigger event present problems that a smaller event fixes? Let's see what I can come up with:
- Networking is a challenge at any size event, but I think there is a tendency to feel lost in the crowd as the crowd becomes larger. If you've been to TechEd you know what I mean. I'd like to see PASS help attendees network without forcing everyone into daily group hugs!
- Once you commit to anything over 500 attendees you're going to have to outsource a lot of the logistics, because hotels and convention centers demand it. So scaling up is just a matter of picking a venue that can handle the crowd. Ultimately that might restrict the location (I'm told there are only 25 cities in the US that can host events with more than 3k attendees), but the locations are generally big popular cities - not a negative unless it knocks Seattle off the list for PASS perhaps.
- More sessions than you have time to see. I don't see this as a size related issue. At our most recent SQLSaturday in Orlando we had 40 sessions in one day, at best an attendee got to see six of them. I think this is a half full/half empty item, I choose to see a large number of choices as exciting rather than being frustrated as having two good one in the same time slot. PASS attempts to fix this by selling DVD's of all the sessions, which is about as good as you can do I think (I heard that 2007 sessions are going to be provided free to all members)
As I think on this is really comes down to logistics. If the event is well run, the rooms are sized appropriately, lunch lines are minimal, I don't think the event size matters, though I think focus on the networking piece should be increased.