Friday, May 8, 2009

What Would You Like at a Conference?

I've been thinking a bit about last week's AAM conference--I heard some very interesting sessions and had some good conversations with friends and colleagues, and, admittedly, was a bit jet-lagged. But what else do I wish for in a conference?
  • Name tags that aren't worn down by participants' waists
  • A map of the conference center
  • More than a token three minutes to "discuss" in sessions--and some way to follow up that conversation
  • Not having to wear a sweater indoors when it's 80 degrees outside (hey, what about that global warming?)
  • The chance to fill out session evaluations online rather than being handed paper every time
  • Moderators who don't read the participant' bios
  • Technology that works (thanks, AAM, it worked everywhere I was) and I loved the print handouts on demand feature
  • Fewer people talking about their own projects and more people, as in the Eye on Design session, talking about what really matters to them--outside of their own work place
  • Better powerpoints--fewer words, more images, less reading of words on screen
  • More times and ways to talk, in conversation with colleagues--I see this happening at many conferences, including AAM--Idea Lounges, Dine and can we create more of them?
  • Some other ways to meet new people rather standing in line for food, or one of those three minute "discuss" sessions
  • Hotels that don't charge for Internet access
  • As in Philadelphia, great food nearby the conference center--Reading Market is the best!
All that said, I've run conferences myself, and know how many millions of details there are. AAM's seems to run smoothly and I appreciate their willingness to try new ways of presenting. It's always easier to have opinions from the outside, but what would you like in a conference?

Above: No AAM shots--but a workshop at the National Art Gallery, Kyiv


Christopher C. said...

Isn't it funny how our best ideas about what to do at a conference come after the session or the conference is over? I share many of your peeves, Linda, and will add one (two?) of my own: Speakers who exceed their time limit, and moderators who fail to enforce the speakers' time limit.

My NCPH consulting colleagues and I tried out a couple of new strategies at our annual conference in April that seemed to work well. In our session we asked five presenters to talk for six minutes each about their approach to consulting (strictly enforced!) which got some ideas out on the table but left nearly an hour for discussion. And, at the very beginning of the session, we asked the audience members to shout (well, speak) out the topics or subjects or ideas that they wanted to hear discussed in our session. As moderator, I wrote all that I heard on the always-handy flip chart. This two-page list of ideas gave us a fall-back agenda, and a chance to make sure that no one left feeling like their topic didn't get discussed. I think it helped keep the session moving by providing a ready-made list of subjects that we could all look at as the discussion progressed.

I confess that I did read the speaker bios, but I kept them to a few short sentences. We can work on that next time.

Linda said...

I really like the idea of audience feedback at the start (and should have known a panel on consulting would have had a flip chart at the ready!). Not quite an set of intros, but I still remember, years ago, at a conference on collecting, when each speaker was asked to begin their talk with what they collected--and to hear Stephen Weil talk about collecting hotel soap was both funny and meaningful. So perhaps no bios, but more thoughtful intros directly and briefly connected to the session. (for your session--worst client ever?)

Linda said...

And a word from another colleague:

"yes, yes to online session evaluations. (If ever considered). Maybe something like survey monkey. Some computer stations throughout. Incentive: fill out 3 evaluations at a time and get a free tote bag or logo pencil. This may also help with tabulation, no?"