Are We Ready for Conference 2.0?

I recently returned from Las Vegas where I was a panelist at the 2011 AT&T Developer Summit.  This was my first experience at the Summit and while I thought it was a great event, I have some ideas on how to make conferences, such as this, more 2.0 in nature.

A one-day event, the summit agenda included two hours of keynote speakers followed by several hours of breakout sessions.  The breakout sessions were very 1.0 (i.e. one to many) by being held in huge theaters with the presenters speaking to the audience.  There was some SMS-based audience polling, but is that really collaboration? Even my daughter’s elementary school has moved away from the 1.0 style of teaching.  When I visited her classroom, I noticed that the desks were set up in work groups.  In many classrooms, the days of row after row of desks facing the chalkboard (if they still have chalkboards) are long gone, yet many conferences (and not just those sponsored by AT&T) still run using a 1.0 style.

In the digital world everyone has a voice.  In set-ups like the breakout sessions at the Las Vegas’ summit, only the presenter has a voice.  I am not sure if it is possible to make those type sessions collaborative without them becoming a free-for-all, but it would be nice to figure something out because I believe a lot gets missed when we use the 1.0 style.

For one thing, 1.0 conferences miss out on a lot of great market sensing. Instead of just spreading awareness a feedback loop could allow the conference host to capture market needs.

Second, cross-audience learning is lost.  Everyone is at these conferences to learn.  At the developers conference, I believe they walked away more knowledgeable for sure but they could have learned more if there had been greater chances to collaborate.

Lastly, community is lost.  Our audience for this conference, developers, know a lot about community.  They live in a very challenging world where time is scarce and community is a critical tool that helps them move ideas forward. It’s true that these communities are typically built online, but I believe a collaborative conference can help create broader and more productive communities.

To answer my question, “Yes! We are ready for conference 2.0.” However, we still need to figure out how to deliver a collaborative experience in a large forum.  SMS polling is a good start, but we have a long way to go.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Provide topics and presentations in advance and encourage participants to submit their thoughts and feedback in advance of the event.
  • Provide a platform that allows audience members to provide constructive input during the presentation.
  • Provide linkages and connection points among audience members.  For example, all participants who write apps in Java jump onto this online Forum or Community to share ideas.
Any suggestions?
Has anyone been to a conference recently that had an innovative approach to collaboration?
Don Parente Technology Strategy and Chief Architect Director AT&T About Don