I hate bad conferences. You sit in a room, surrounded by bright, interesting people, watching a series of PowerPoint slides. The first speakers overrun, there is no time for questions, and you only get to speak to people in hushed whispers at your table, or a quick hi in the restroom queue.
I am in the middle of such a conference (I will spare the name for their benefit). It would be a beautiful, stimulating place if only it was structured differently.
I am an organizer of an innovation conference, InnovateEurope, which runs every year in London in October. When we were designing the conference, we tried to make it the conference we wanted to attend. Some areas we worked on were:
- lots of time to interact with fellow delegates
- long lunches to have time to speak with one another (and no lunch time speakers!)
- communal inclusive dinner on the first night with unlimited drinks
- few favors for speakers based on quid pro quo
- speaker choice of 45 minute standard-style presentation with questions, or extended one hour session with built-in activity session for delegates to work together
draconian management of time to ensure enough time for questions
printouts of all presentations ahead of time to allow people to read-ahead and take notes
We ran the first conference in 2004 and I can honestly say that I learned more on innovation in general and new specific methods that at any of the other conferences in the same year. The benefits of innovating the innovation process are visible and can now be shared with all.