November 26, 2014

Talking at WordCamp Stockholm 2012
Making conferences work

The past two years I’ve had this rule to not attend conferences where I’m not speaking. I decided to try it for a year, found that it worked for me, and now I’m sticking to it, more or less.

Conferences are fundamentally broken. The sessions are almost always too long, the speakers are almost always poorly chosen, and the diversity is almost always nonexistent. This makes for long days where you come out tired and worn, instead of energized and enlightened. Whatever great talk or insight that were hiding in there, it’ll probably drown in the noise.

I propose the following guidelines for making conferences work.

  • The conference should have a clearly defined theme and purpose, which includes both speakers and visitors.
  • No sessions longer than 20 minutes, preferably less than that.
  • Each session should have one clear purpose and topic.
  • Panels need to be timed, with an efficient moderator, and also no longer than 20 minutes, as well as confined to one clear purpose and topic.
  • String sessions together and build a narrative so that they make sense as a whole, thus building upon the conference’s purpose.
  • Break time between sessions is important, it’s where we can start processing what just happened by talking to each other.
  • After no more than five sessions, wrap up and go out for dinner and drinks, and talk things through outside the conference.

The notion that we can stay interested and sharp for a full day is ridiculous. Better to have shorter events, and leave room for talking and processing as a group, in a natural environment such as a restaurant or lounge bar.

I’d gladly participate in such a conference.

Thoughts? Let @tdh know on Twitter, or find me elsewhere. There is also a newsletter.