Elements of a Good Conference: Reflections on BAcon

I reported on the three days of the BoardingArea BAcon Conference here; BAcon Day 1, BAcon Day 2, and BAcon Day 3. I also talked about my travel ordeals to and from here and here. Now, a quick look back at the overall value of the time spent in Colorado Springs.

With more than a quarter century of business travel, I have attended well over a hundred conferences. Some have been a day or two, others required a week or more. Whether it’s called a conference, convention, seminar, or workshop, what all of them have in common is a focus on value – trying to squeeze the best content into a brief period of time. Here is what makes one better than another.

For most attendees, convenient location is at the top of the list. It is not surprising, then, that most national/international conferences are at or near airports. Conference dates also are often critical. No one, for example, wants to attend a conference on Christmas. Weather is another factor. It is quite unpleasant to attend a conference in Las Vegas during the summer but it may be worse to attempt one in Denver in the middle of winter. Just getting there and back may be a major problem due to flight delays/cancelations and road closings.

A good conference requires that organizers consider the needs of those attending. That means quality speakers who know how to present the best content in a brief period of time. It also means having Q&A time. Far too many conferences fail at this as speakers leave right after their presentations. Of course this will happen sometimes but it should be the exception. Bonus points for speakers who include handouts or offer to send copies of their PowerPoint. More bonus points if they provide contact information for follow up later or recordings of their session.

For many in attendance, the venue also may be important. It is not unusual that some desire to bring their families and perhaps add on a few days at the beginning or the end for vacation time. Resorts offer a clear advantage when families travel together because of the numerous family activities while the attendee is in a session.

Another element important to attendees is time to share and network. Some conferences factor this in, others simply ignore it or feel they must pack the agenda full in order for attendees to receive value.

So how did BAcon stack up against other conferences?

It was certainly convenient, only 15-20 minutes from the airport and the resort offered shuttle service. Perhaps a weekend other than Mother’s Day would have been better as a few speakers declined to appear but the weather was excellent. As for venue, those attending alone really didn’t care if we were at a resort or a local motel. We were kept so busy that there wasn’t time to visit the likes of Garden of the Gods or Pikes Peak without additional time at the front or back end. For families, the resort environment was much more pleasant.

Our sessions were long on both time and quality. The most important thing is the value of these sessions, and here BAcon was simply outstanding. Each one was designed to help us as bloggers, which of course helps readers as well. A few highlight speakers that come to mind immediately are world class writer/blogger Chris McGinnis, USAToday writer Charisse Jones, and Andy Hayes.

As for meeting and networking time, Randy Petersen was very considerate given the time constraints. We had time to network over most meals, along with brief time between sessions. In the end, however, it was not enough time to meet and talk with every blogger to the extent that we would have liked but it was a great start. Randy’s comment throughout the event that BAcon is where the conversation starts, not where it ends, is a statement that should apply to most conferences.

But what separates the great conferences from the good ones is beyond all of this. It is the intangibles. In the case of BAcon, we arrived as individual bloggers but we left as friends working towards a common goal. No conference organizer can ask for more than that. Bottom line, BAcon delivered.

Note to Randy: We know the many trials you faced putting together this conference, including the last minute challenges. You and Karen dealt with every one of them, just as sometimes we have to accept travel roadblocks. In the end, you scored in content and soared in intangible value. That’s when you know that a conference is well worth the time invested.

For the conferences you have attended, what feature (tangible or not) left you walking away saying “Wow, that was a great conference?”  Likewise, what would be on your wish list for meeting organizers?

Comments

  1. Great seeing you again! And I have to say, BAcon was just excellent in every way. Unfortunately, I leave far too many meetings not feeling much smarter than when I entered, but as you said…BAcon delivered. What an awesome learning experience.

  2. BAcon was a pretty amazing event. There was so much info to take in and I hope to use some of it in the future to improve my blog.

    Like you stated, I would’ve liked more time to chat with other bloggers but there is only so much time in a day.
    Hopefully, next time I’ll get to chat with you in person!

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