What makes a cracking conference?

Conferences are an excellent opportunity to connect with others in the same industry, and in publishing at least there’s a busy annual schedule to choose from. This month we’ve been planning for forthcoming events, which got us thinking about what we liked most about those recently attended, and what sets apart a really successful conference.

1. Compelling speakers. An interesting programme with a great line-up of speakers sits at the heart of every good conference. So what makes for an effective talk? It can be tricky to get the balance right to avoid losing the audience in too much detail, but focused topics which address real day-to-day issues generally work well. In contrast, themes which are too broad, vague or ‘future gazing’ to the point where they have no real substance should be avoided. Similarly, talks which amount to a thinly veiled sales pitch for the speaker’s product or company are unlikely to win over a seasoned audience.

2. Programme gaps. Whilst engaging talks are important, it’s equally key to allow enough time for meetings and networking in-between. Big conferences have an international draw, and can be one of the few opportunities in the diary to get influential industry players together in the same room. This means that a lot of the value from attending comes from the meetings you can arrange in advance and chance conversations on the day.

3. Event communications. A fantastic venue is always a great asset, but since many in attendance will not be familiar with their surroundings, strong communication about the local area (where to find it, nearby hotels and restaurants) and the conference schedule (start times, registration, programme etc) is vital. This might be supported by a well designed conference website, and informative email communications with attendees in the run up to the event. Enthusiastic and helpful staff on the day can also make all the difference.

4. Free stuff! Everyone likes freebies, and complementary items such as mugs and T-shirts, plus giveaways and competitions can help increase the overall ‘feel good’ factor of the event. Perhaps most importantly of all, free alcohol in the early evenings is widely appreciated and helps to bring everyone together at the end of the day for further informal networking.

5. Reliable wi-fi. With many attendees needing to keep on top of email and work, plus tweet and blog about the conference itself (occasionally all at the same time!), access to reliable wi-fi is vital. In our own case, we often wish to give online demos of our core product MasterVision to interested parties, and so slow or unavailable internet can be a major headache. As a general issue we’ve found internet problems to be the number one conference ‘gripe’, so it’s a fundamental point to get right.