Having just done two conferences back-to-back, it’s quite interesting comparing the two. There were some unexpected similarities between how they were run, but were quite different in their execution.
The first conference was a big one: Microsoft Ignite. This is the new name for what once was TechEd, and as you can probably imagine it was a well-oiled beast. I’ve deliberately avoided TechEd in the past because it’s 2/3 Microsoft marketing material and I’m not a fan of getting preached to. The reality? Not as bad as I expected. Yes, the blatant marketing was there, but you had a pretty good idea which sessions they’d be. It was easy enough to keep those sessions to a minimum.
The second conference was the 2015 NZ Cloud Computing Conference. The conference was… I’d say laughable, but there was nothing funny about it. Four of the seven presentations were made by sponsors. Two of the remaining sessions were academics. There was also a panel, featuring two of the sponsors and one of the academics. Up until the lunch break, it felt like only speaker that wasn’t trying to sell me something was one of the academics. I don’t know how the afternoon speaker went. After having my catered lunch, I just up and left.
Both conferences were very much aimed at selling products. Ignite was open and honest about it, and gave you choice if you wanted a break. NZCCC looked every bit an independent conference from the outside, but turned into a thinly-veiled sales pitch when you’re in there.
Even ignoring the content, there was a noticeable difference in the quality of the presentations. On the whole, the presenters at Ignite were interesting and captured the audience’s interest. Sure, there were a few yawners, but you expect that given the sheer number of talks. NZCCC was an absolute yawn-fest. Deliveries were universally wooden, read from pieces of dead tree. Nothing made me want to care.
So, conference hosts, here are a couple of tips. If you’re going to host a glorified marketing roadshow, at least make it obvious so that people like me can stay away. And if you’re going to get presenters, at least find some who sound like they’ve got some passion for the subject.