I have a rule about conferences and trade shows: never attend sessions. They are garbage useless.
I just broke my rule.
I wasted precious hours of my life that could have gone into my startup, Pristine.
I suppose I should backup and explain this rule. It seems counterintuitive. After all, the primary agenda that most conferences advertise are the speakers. They justify outrageous ticket prices by arguing that you could never learn so much from industry leaders in such a short period of time.
I don't care about speakers. Any of them. I hate being lectured to. Plus, I can almost always find a speaker's writings and thoughts online anyways. If they're important enough to speak at a conference, they probably have freely available literature online.
Conferences are incredible. I love conferences. They are the ultimate cesspool of networking. They are pure entropy. Serendipity. Coincidence. Destiny. They exist to drive discovery and synergy.
My only rule at conferences is to talk to as many strangers as possible. After all, I don't know who the hell you are, who you know, how you can help me, or vice versa. The number of opportunities to be had is mind bogglingly awesome.
One of my favorite bloggers, Horace Dediu of Asymco, has written about and tried to disrupt the conference industry. It's quite difficult, but he's tried with Asymconf. Asymconf is a small conference - no more than a couple hundred people - in which everyone is expected to actively participate in a public discussion among their peer group.
This perhaps provides a reasonable middle ground between the rigid monotony of the status quo, and my free-thinking, free-wheeling anarchy-filled future.
I would like to learn about the economics of conferences. I belittle the industry on a regular basis, but admittedly know very little about the industry structure or economics. I'm convinced there's significant opportunity for improvement, I just don't know enough to provide an honest assessment of what that could look like.
At first glance, I think the problem has to do with scale. By definition, bigger conferences attract more people. But I think that's exactly the problem. Smaller, more intimate conferences are better.
Perhaps the key to amazing conferences is to limit the size, and mandate that all attendees really are qualified. Asymconf was structured this way for good reason.