A Better Conference




Hope to see you at the conference.

Hope to see you at the conference.



I participate in a lot of events during the year. I had the SQL in the City event from Red Gate recently, with more of those coming to the US later this year. In 2013 I’ve also been a part of SQL Intersection, the online-only spring IT Connections event, various SQL Saturdays, and attended the MVP Summit from Microsoft. In the past I’ve also spoken or attendedTechEd, the PASS Summit, and various one, two, and three day events that didn’t necessarily focus on one specific technology. In that time, I haven’t seen a lot of difference between the various conferences organization and flow. some little things have been tried, and some I liked, but overall most events consist of:

  • a series of “tracks”, which are really rooms in a building.
  • a 60-90 minute presentation of varying quality from a speaker, built months in advance, with little input from the audience.
  • shuttling from one session to another quickly

There are other parts of the events, parties at night, sometimes networking, keynotes, lunch panels, etc, but for the most part organizers pick a location, choose to have x number of rooms, and choose speakers to present in those spaces, largely on the basis of their own biases or desire to learn about a specific topic. Even when attendees vote for content, they only affect a small portion of the agenda.

Could we do better? I don’t know. I saw this post on a better conference and it got me thinking. Perhaps there are other ways we could build conferences. Would it make sense to link sessions together, and build on knowledge across the day? What about getting a panel of speakers to respond to real scenarios and questions from the audience, possibly submitted a few days or hours before? That would raise the bar for speakers, and it might be more entertaining. I’m not sure the quality would be better, especially if demos are hastily thrown together.

However the post has an interesting point. Conferences and many sessions ought to be more about engagement and inspiration and less about training you to use a particular piece of technology. Perhaps we would like to find ways to interact more, discuss and debate ideas and approaches rather than broadcast information. Would you like more interactive content? Or do you prefer to sit back and listen to what the speaker thinks is important?

About way0utwest

Editor, SQLServerCentral
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2 Responses to A Better Conference

  1. Mike Fal says:

    That’s a fascinating dichotomy, the desire between interaction and pure instruction. As a speaker, I know I like to have engagement with the audience, a back and forth to explore the topic and focus in on what they think is important. But I also know a lot of folks who attend these sessions simply want to be “given” information and aren’t there to have a discussion. Speakers who use one approach might turn off attendees who are looking for the other.

    Maybe the solution is having two broader “tracks” at a conference. One side is the simple instruction we’re used to, the other offers workshops, where a presenter/leader will offer discussion on a topic, but the design of the session will be one where attendees will be there to work through/discuss those real world scenarios you talk about.

    Not sure if this is where you’re going with this. I know I’ve participated in both styles and prefer the workshop, but there are more logistical hurdles on that side of the fence. It’s so much easier to put a group of people in a room and have someone talk to them for an hour.

  2. way0utwest says:

    I get that, and there ought to be some “give to the audience”. However I often find even those that want to listen, find the sessions don’t always cover or interest them. I’m looking for a way to get some audience feedback or drive for the session. It won’t be perfect, but perhaps even having two presenters at most sessions and one can work on tailoring things to the audience as sessions or feedback is given, maybe building or altering demos.

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