Further Thoughts on Conferences

My ruminations on what makes a good conference seems to have sparked quite a bit of interest. Hardly surprising, if you think about it, given the inordinate amount of time a lot of us spend at these things! I thought I'd write a separate post about it in order to draw your attention to some other people's thoughts on the subject, especially as they may be currently buried in the comments on the original article.

Jim Buckingham expands on the comments he made about my article, in a blog post in its own right. In Conferences, My Definition of a Great One, Jim comes up with some brilliant suggestions, including this one:

Ultimately the perfect conference, is not a one off or something that works in isolation. By that I mean, it is hopefully part of a broader picture… namely supporting a “community of practice” and is clearly seen to be doing so.


I loved reading Kim Cofino's recipe for a better conference, in her Next Generation Conference. She takes the view that conferences ought to be more practical, ie result in the actual creation of something. That certainly ties in with my own tendency to ask myself, whilst sitting in many conference sessions,

Yes, but how would this help me with Year 11 on Monday morning?

One thing I agree with, though it worries me a bit, is Kim's asking:

Why, oh why do we still see the same presenters at every conference? I don’t mean the same individual people (although that can be a problem too). I mean the same older, white, males. Where’s the diversity? Gender, race, age, experience? How did we get trapped in this model where we think only older white men have something to offer?

I think we should have more diversity, but as an older white male I feel I am being unfairly picked on here: I didn't select myself, and I can't help my age, gender or colour!

Actually, I was thinking at the Naace 2010 conference recently how many presenters were men, but also how thrilled I was that two of the keynoters were Martha Lane Fox and Keri Facer. These are two of the brightest people you could ever have the pleasure of listening to. I would also venture to suggest, at the risk of being castigated for generalising and/or sexism, that on the whole it's less likely to find a female ego-tripper on a conference podium than a male one. But maybe that's because there are fewer of them to be  ego-trippers!

Finally, Doug Woods asks:

Is the conference relevant to me and my work?

He also mentions the issue of cost.

Both points are well taken. One thing which Doug does not mention is the opportunity cost of lost earnings. For example, a conference that costs, say, £300 is actually costing you £300 plus the money you could have earned had you not gone.

A big thank you to Jim, Kim and Doug for their helpful comments, and for forcing me to deepen my own thinking in this area.