Friday, July 17, 2009

Rethinking the Way We Do Conferences - More Impact, Less Cost

I want to begin my post by saying that in all of the conferences that I attend, the Alliance conference is one of the best. This being my third one, I just enjoy the subject matter and the networking. I truly learn a great deal.

Now that said, I think the industry of conferences is a bit funny to me and I have thought this for a while. The definition I like of conference is "the act of conferring or consulting together; consultation, esp. on an important or serious matter". I think we meet the classical definition. Check.

I would add that to have a conference, the environment would need to be ideal. We could not have a conference in the middle of a tractor pull or in a nursery. But on the flip side we could not have a conference, no matter how awesome, at a ski resort in Geneva. To far removed. I think a majority of the conferences that I attend, if the above is a range, would lean toward the Geneva. They are expensive, they are far removed from the central core of what the practitioners are about. This distance can weigh negatively on the definition of conference above. Can we effectively meet the definition in an environment that is a little far removed from where we practice. Is location as much a detractor as heat or time of the year? I think so, if not more.

Alright John, nice musings but your all bun and no hot dog (been waiting to say that for some time....nice). I do have a solution. Why not pick a city and have our meetings in community settings. Could I have had a better ETM Affinity Group if I were giving it in a foundation conference room. How about our membership meeting at a community center. I heard the word social justice discussed several times....I think there would be no better way to meet the needs of those on the ground floor then to "conference" among them. I am excited about the possibility of labs that specific take us as capacity builders and apply ourselves. Can you imagine going to Kansas City, 200 conference goes, and working with 5-10 groups on specific issues and applying our "conference" work to them. Talk about experiential learning and simulation. Also, would be unprecedented.

Now lets talk about costs. Summer and Tom and others should be pumped about this idea. I cannot believe that anyone would believe that doing a conference at a Marriott would be anymore expensive then 3 days of trainings and discussions at local community spaces. And imagine the economic impact on those groups. I feel better about giving 10K to the local Boys and Girls Club than to the Hilton. Paris Hilton doesn't need our cash....

Now I know the arguments against, including that the location should match our "Sunday Best". My argument would be that the Sunday best is our actions, not the clothing. As the Alliance is seeking its new identity and the conference is that one public display of our work, how about we assign ourselves to this or other ideas that changes the dynamic and also may bring our wisdom and learning into a more suitable environment. Let me know how I can help!


Virginia said...

I totally agree, John - I like the idea of being in the community for a conference focused on building our communities.

And in addition to the costs and involvement arguments - I shudder to think about the carbon footprint of our past few days. It takes a lot of AC to fight off 115 degree heat. And that's just the start of the non environmentally friendly mess that this place is.

Hear hear!
Virginia Edelstein, fellow Alliance Conf blogger

deb said...

I have simple requirements for conferences. I want to have time for meeting with colleagues and friends--both long standing and new.
I want solid presentations by true experts with opportunities for Q and A as well as for friendly disagreements.

I want a location that is comfortable but reasonably inexpensive and allows for exploration of the community (either because of where we actually meet or dine-arounds. It should be accessible by direct flights for many of us and offer public transportation. (Coming from Chicago, the hub of the US travel universe, I've hardly ever changed planes in my life except when I did foolish things to save money.

Typically, the Alliance measures up very well on all counts, so this year was an anomaly in logistical respects. Nevertheless, the content, meeting and learning opportunities,and obvious commitment to the Alliance were very valuable.

Thanks for the blog.
Debby Strauss