What makes a great conference?

I’m not an expert at organizing conferences, but over the last ten years I have spoken at several dozen of them, attended even more and even started up (or at least helped doing so) a couple of small, community conferences. And now I would like to share with you some thoughts about how, in my opinion, a successful conference should look like.

Two-day conference is way better than a single-day one

From an attendee perspective return of investment rate from a two-day conference (preferably with a pre-conf as well) is at least ten times higher than from a single-day one. I’m talking not only about opportunities to attend more sessions, but about after-party, and generally, about the feeling that I don’t have to rush during the whole event.

But most of us will not spend the whole weekend at the conference. Just no, period. That leads us to the second point.

Paid conference is healthier than a free one

I do not advocate raising money by organizing conferences, at least not the community ones. But if a conference has to take place during weekdays, it means that people will not be at work at the time. Thus, they will be delegated by their employers. A small fee can even help to convince a typical manager that a company will benefit from sending you to the conference. That the first reason.

The second one is all about sponsors. To organize a conference you will need them for sure. If most of the attendees are employees in IT-related companies, you will find a sponsorship much easier.

The last argument is even more mocking — the average dropout ratio at free conferences is about 40%. Yes, almost half of registered people won’t show up! This problem simply doesn’t apply do paid events.

Ok, but how to convince people and companies to spend money on a conference? Please, continue reading.

International conference is superior to a local one

Everybody knows that a well-known speaker, preferably a foreigner, will draw a lot of attention and one huge name can convince a lot of people to attend. That’s clear.

Now I’m talking about getting attendees from neighboring countries. In Europe traveling across countries is not more expensive nor harder than traveling between regions of the same country. So, it’s perfectly possible under one condition — all sessions have to be in English. I know, that can be difficult at first, but at the end everybody (including local speakers) will benefit from this. Believe me, they will.

Only one thing remains — at a good conference sessions have to be about things that people are genuinely interested in.

Community conference absolutely crashes an alienated one

What’s the worst case scenario for a conference? IMO bored to death attendees. How to avoid this? Well, you should not only invite well-know, local and international speakers, but also choose at least one guy who has never spoken at your conferences before. This way, you will show those old chaps that nothing is granted forever and they really should do their best to get invited again.

Beside this, personally I’m much more attracted by those uncommon topics that show the true passion and willingness to share a deep knowledge that by that standard “I will show you this coolest and newest feature” ones.

Any comments will be welcomed

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Marcin Szeliga

About Marcin Szeliga

Since 2006 invariably awarded Microsoft Most Valuable Professional title in the SQL category. A consultant, lecturer, authorized Microsoft trainer with 15 years’ experience, and a database systems architect. He prepared Microsoft partners for the upgrade to SQL Server 2008 and 2012 versions within the Train to Trainers program. A speaker at numerous conferences, including Microsoft Technology Summit, SQL Saturday, SQL Day, Microsoft Security Summit, Heroes Happen {Here}, as well as at user groups meetings. The author of many books and articles devoted to SQL Server.

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