Friday, April 24, 2009

2009 Conferences - Never mind the quantity, experience the quality.

In the current economic climate one of the first items that get cut in any budget squeeze is usually travel, and subsequent attendances at industry conferences. But, judging by my experiences at the two industry conferences I’ve attended so far this year, DocTrain West and WritersUA, this is a false economy. Yes attendance was down at both, due to aforementioned budget and travel restraints, but they were two of the best conferences I’ve attended in years.

Simply put, those people who were at the two events, were fully engaged in the conference. The conversations were compelling, interesting, relevant, and thought provoking. The speakers seemed to be of a higher quality and all the presentations were equally worthy of note and attention. The organizers of both conferences had put together excellent sessions with distinct themes. Most of the time I found myself attending one excellent session while at the same time wishing I could have been at a different concurrent session that sounded just as interesting. The most difficult aspect of these two conferences was scheduling your time.

Having spoken to several people who also attended either one, or in some cases both, of these conferences, it seems that I am not alone in these opinions.

So why in a time of economic belt-tightening are the conferences so much better?

Firstly I believe that the majority of people who at the conferences, speakers and attendees alike, most likely had to give a good justification for being there. While you should always have a good reason for attending any conference, having to justify the expense can be a great motivator and help you to determine a real need. Everyone who was there, was there to learn. And if I perceived one over riding sentiment from both conferences, it was that they were unparalleled opportunities to learn from industry experts and peers alike.

It was noticeable that attendance at sessions on the last day was just as high as those on the first day, and that conversations started over breakfast continued on into the evenings. Conference attendees put in much longer hours than they do in the office.

Secondly, the organizers and presenters have realized that sessions that are little more than thinly disguised marketing pitches very quickly lose you confidence and respect. The result is that most sessions today are highly focused on presenting real world results, or best practices based on experience.

Everyone I spoke to at both conferences also believed that by being in attendance they had given themselves, and their companies, a competitive advantage. Whether it was new technologies that they hadn’t considered before, like wikis; learning how to apply industry standards like DITA; or new techniques that could save time and money, such as the application of controlled languages, or a greater use of graphics; all had come away with something that more than justified the cost of attending.

In a couple of weeks I will be at the STC National Summit in Atlanta, and I will be interested to see if the trend towards increased quality and excellence continues.

[If you are at the STC Summit I'll be speaking on Tuesday 5th May at 1:30pm in the Hanover AB room, or you will be able to find me at Booth #109 for most of the show.]

NOTE: This blog entry was first published as part of my WebWorks blog

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