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 valueOz-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?