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Are You Getting What You Need From Conferences?

(Originally posted in June 2015 – Updated October 2016)

Photo Credit: BERTEIG’s Valerie Senyk facilitated a group session on “What Do We Mean by Transformation?” in Orlando 2016.

Professional Development opportunities are everywhere and they are easy to find at any price-point on any topic at any location. The hard part is deciding how to spend your time.

It is important to think about why you attend conferences. Most importantly, why do you choose some conferences over others? Do you want to learn from peers in your field? Do you want exposure to the latest industry trends? Are you looking for a new job? Or do you just want to be blown away by great people?

I attended the Agile Coach Camp Canada last weekend in Cornwall, Ontario, and that incredible experience has caused me to reflect on the variety of conferences I have enjoyed in recent years…and why I choose some over others.

Like any great product, successful conferences have clear and focused goals which create specific opportunities for their participants. Conference organizers choose location, venue, date, duration, registration cost, format, theme, etc. The best conference organizers are courageous and willing to make difficult decisions in order to compose their events with utmost respect to the collective vision and goals of the attendees, sponsors, and founders. The organizers of Agile Coach Camp Canada, for example, are dedicated to creating an event in which the agile coaching community can “share in an energizing and supportive environment”. That’s it! A clear and compelling vision. This clarity of vision guides decisions like whether to host the event in a metropolis (which may result in larger numbers and more sponsorship opportunities) or away from large cities (think overnight “camp”) — this is one formative decision of many that make Agile Coach Camp Canada so intense and unique year after year.

Some background: This was the 6th annual Agile Coach Camp Canada and the 2nd time that I have attended; the event generally starts on Friday evening and includes supper followed by lightning talks, Saturday uses Open Space Technology to produce an agenda followed by supper and socializing (late into the night!), then Sunday morning wraps-up with retrospection then everybody leaves in early afternoon; the cost per person is between $300-$500 for the entire weekend including meals, travel, hotel room; the event is often held in small-ish towns like Guelph or Cornwall which are a few hours from a major airport. Having been there twice — both times just blown away by the community, their expertise, their emotional intelligence, their openness — I understand very clearly the responsibility of conference organizers and I have gained new respect for the difficult decisions they must make.

Upon reflection, I know that I attend the Agile Coach Camp Canada because (a) I learn a lot and (b) I have bonded deeply with my colleagues. Those are the two reasons that I will return next year and the next. I do not attend that event with an expectation to develop new business, or attract new leads, or stay on top of industry trends — instead, I will look to other conferences for those opportunities.

What/where/when is your next professional excursion? Do you know what you want to get out of it? Here’s a tip: choose one objective from the list below and find a conference that delivers exactly that!

  • Business development: Find new or reconnect with existing business contacts.
  • Professional development: Find or explore opportunities for career enhancement.
  • Learning: Listen/watch/share with others who practice in your areas of interest.
  • Community building: Connect and communicate with people with interests or qualities that you appreciate.
  • Market exposure: Evangelize a product or service for a captive audience.
  • Other?

Life is short…make it amazing!


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