I’ve been to six conferences in the past year and have organized a few mini-conferences here and there in the past. I’ve been always fascinated to learn about people’s motivations for doing any particular activity or making a specific decision.
"Attending a conference" may turn out to be an expensive ordeal, especially if you have to travel to a different city (or a country), take out the time from your daily planned work, pay for transportation, accomodation and other compulsive costs associated to going to a new place, in addition to paying the conference fees. But people still go to conferences.
When I was in school, I got lucky to be part of the school’s engineering magazine’s staff (which entitled me to a free pass to all major conferences in the country), and I selectively attended many. Currently I go to a conference either to present, to demo my product to learn more about a new industry/technology. But, the common and the highest order bit for me to attend any conference has always been and will always be "to meet new people", with similar or different interests.
Despite being the single-most motivating factor, I haven’t been able to optimally meet all the right people I can potentially meet at any such conference, and I’m often frustrated. After every conference, I do a tally of business cards that I have collected (obviously in return of sharing my business card), and I always feel that I could have met more people with specific interests.
Few sites like Confabb (supported by Dave Winer, started by Salim Ismail) and Pubshub are attempting to create some kind of social community around conferences, but it hasn’t worked out for me yet (although I’ve always yearned for something like this for years)..Confabb recently acquired assets of a Seattle startup from Ben Curtis – Conferencemeetup, which claims to have some social features. It will be interesting to see them integrated into confabb.
I did a quick Facebook poll to learn about people’s motivations for attending conferences and here are the results:
Question: Why do you go to a conference?
1. To view demos from exhibitors (7%)
2. To meet new people with similar interests. (24%)
3. To listen to speakers/presentations.(34%)
4. To get away from work.(36%)
Today, with prolific blogging about all events worth attending and the generous conference organizers, who share content (even videos, see examples at www.ted.com and www.allthingsd.com) of the conference for free (in return of advertising), it becomes hard to justify paying the fees for listening to speakers/presentations. There is an interesting debate on value of such services on Techcrunch.
Why do/would you go to a conference?