You know, con­fer­ences, for all their imag­ined value some­times aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. The sig­nal to noise ratio ends up being way out of whack and you walk away after two or three days think­ing you’d have been bet­ter off sav­ing your money and stay­ing at work. There are more than a few con­fer­ences that strike me as being mostly noise.

I don’t intend to name names, but there con­fer­ence organ­is­ers in Aus­tralia (and prob­a­bly every­where else) that seem intent on latch­ing onto the newest, hottest top­ics and whip­ping together a flashy, heav­ily spon­sored event that costs an arm and a leg for atten­dees. They pre­de­ter­mine the agenda based on the cool topic of the month and go look­ing for speak­ers that seem to fit the bill, find­ing them on LinkedIn or some other online com­mu­nity (I’ve been approached this way in the past). They often seem to get qual­i­fied speak­ers, yet those speak­ers aren’t always the best per­son to present. They don’t reward the speak­ers in any way despite the spon­sor­ship they have for the event. On the other hand, guys like Eric Scheid can organ­ise and run some­thing like Oz-​​IA on the smell of an oily rag and still cover speaker travel and accom­mo­da­tion (which is frankly, amazing).

It beats me how these peo­ple, who actu­ally aren’t pas­sion­ate about the sub­ject mat­ter and aren’t doing this for any­thing more than the dol­lars the con­fer­ence can make them are able to attract any of the spon­sors, speak­ers or atten­dees. Yet they can. Frankly, it’s annoying.

Now my rant is over, there is a bright side. There are a small num­ber of con­fer­ences that are incred­i­ble value — Oz-​​IA, Web Direc­tions North and South, IA Sum­mit, Office 2.0 and Enter­prise 2.0 are all on the list of con­fer­ences I con­sider must attends if you have the chance. I’m hop­ing to get to at least a cou­ple of the North Amer­i­can con­fer­ences next year — ide­ally as a pre­sen­ter. I have pro­pos­als in for Enter­prise 2.0 and am work­ing on some mate­r­ial I hope to get accepted for Office 2.0 and a cou­ple of other con­fer­ences in 2008.

I’ll def­i­nitely be attend­ing the Aus­tralian con­fer­ences in 2008, espe­cially as I’ve missed Web Direc­tions South the past two years due to other com­mit­ments. I’m pretty much com­mit­ted to attend Ross Daw­son’s Enter­prise 2.0 Exec­u­tive Forum on Feb­ru­ary 19. For a half-​​day event, it looks incred­i­bly meaty and there are some very smart peo­ple attend­ing and speak­ing who really know their stuff.

I think that there are a few mea­sures for good conferences:

  • Do you get to catch up with your indus­try col­leagues and friends face-​​to-​​face?
  • Do you get exposed to new or evolv­ing thought on sub­jects you’re inter­ested in?
  • Do you get to see things related to your work that you don’t get a chance to see every day?
  • Do you get to meet new peo­ple whose work and per­son­al­ity inter­est and excite you?

I’m sure there are an equal or larger num­ber of mea­sures I’ve missed, but these are the ones that do it for me.

What about you? What con­fer­ences give you great value? How do you mea­sure that value?