David Rowan (Blog, Twitter) is the Editor of Wired UK, a fellow runner and conference junkie. He attends several top conferences every month both as attendee and speaker/moderator, so we met at his office in London to discuss what makes a great conference.
According to David “the key to a well organized conference is curation both on stage and offstage”.
Curation is the top priority
A well curated event is a place where Wired often finds the people that are shaping the future, “the influencers who are going to make the difference, the new businesses that are going to affect our lives”. For this reason, Wired is considering organizing their own conferences “but it has to reflect the strong editorial values of the magazine, just like the best conferences reflect the very strong vision of the programmers and founders“.
If there is one thing that should linger on in the conference organizer’s mind is that “we’re in a world where people’s time is precious […] and they don’t want mediocrity. You really have to put in the effort, and if you do, people will value that and they’ll pay for it, and the sponsors will come”.
How to improve the speakers experience
For David it’s important that the speakers have their own slot or at maximum an interview-like session where they can go in depth, engage in an intimate conversation that reveals new things, as opposed to multi-people panels where everyone has very little time and seldom go very deep.
“The most effective events I go to tend not to rely very heavily on the big panel discussions on stage, because [as a moderator] you want to test people so they say something they really care about, and it’s a bit too comfortable being one person and for or five or six on a panel”
How to improve the experience of the attendees
A good relationship between the organizers and the attendees should imply that both have to do their own homework and prepare in advance. “The best events have prepared me in advance by putting a detailed program online or giving me a detailed brochure, booklet, iPad app, whatever, that tells me where I should be, who the people are”.
When the conference doesn’t provide many details, the delegates don’t know what to expect, so David urges event organizers to make it easy for the delegates to find the schedule, bios, who else is participating, etc
An then, if you’re putting on a hi-tech event, please provide good wi-fi! It helps attendees to “spread the love” over social networks, telling people in the outside what is happening and making it easy for them to connect with the rest of the like-minded people out there.
BTW Wired UK just launched a new “events” section on their website where event organizers (and others too) can share upcoming conferences, barcamps, etc. and help people discover what’s happening around.