There is a growing trend of ‘new conferences’ within our industry. Whether they’re small non-conferences, meet-ups or full week long conferences they all take up a degree of time from our diaries that sometimes we just can’t handle. Depending on your view, it could be argued that there is little value in conferences as the content of such conference talks can be found online. On the flip side, some might argue that the value of a conference has completely nothing to do with the conference talks and it is more about the people you meet whilst you’re at the conference.
If you look over our entire web industry and more specifically at the various conferences that are held every year, you will find a very small minority which are held outside of the normal working week. It’s the norm for them to be mid-week and I was asked recently why they aren’t held on weekends as people need to work. There are a couple of reasons…
Conferences costs for an attendee can mount up, being on both the side of a conference organiser and attendee I fully understand both sides of the coin. I actually hadn’t gone to a conference until 2008 and even though it was a UK based conference, a day or so out of the office, travel costs and the price of the ticket totalled to approximately £800. The main chunk of this cost is time out of the office. If you’re looking to travel to an international conference the cost can be even higher jumping in to the £1000 to £2000 range, maybe even higher depending on where you are traveling to.
How do I and many other people justify spending time traveling to conferences around the world? Because it makes me better at what I do. Our industry is very lonely, we work fairly long hours sometimes completely alone for days on end. Twitter and Skype can be used for communication, but when you’re working it’s better to close these for productivity. I find myself talking to new people at conferences that I would certainly never have met online. For some people you can make friendships with people who could pass you work in the future, and that’s the whole point of ‘networking’ right? You can talk through ideas with people ‘in real life’ and put your point across better than you could ever do on Skype or Twitter and get real feedback.
The speaker talk content will more than likely be online, it’s rare to be the first to see a speaker talk that hasn’t been done before but that’s not the point. The point is that it’s always better in person. I saw Andy Clarke start his Hardboiled Web Design talk back in Liverpool, I went on to see it another two times including on April 28 2010 at DIBI. Did it seem a bit repetitive? No. Why? Because every time Andy did that talk, he iterated on it and added or took away some content depending on what he thought was valuable. The talk on a whole became more of a lesson rather than theory, something that Andy is great at.
I see the biggest thing for any conference that I attend is the discussion that the talks create and the inspiration that is built from them. Meeting up with old friends is obviously a bonus and most of the time, conferences are the only times that I’d see some great friends.
Getting back to the point about why conferences aren’t on weekends? My personal point of view is they should be treated as ‘work’, they can be written off against business expenditure for one and you can get work done whilst you’re there but most importantly they’ll make you a better professional. Even if you just get to one during the year, choose wisely and speak to people about them. Find the best one for you and go for it, you’ll be surprised why you’ve not done it before. And anyway, weekends are for chilling out and family time. That time also makes us a better person.