Tuesday, July 3, 2012

To Conference Or Un-Conference: Not Even A Question.

I don’t have a dog in this fight. I don’t own a start-up. I’m not a VC. But I do gravitate toward creativity, innovation, and problem solving.

I moved to Venice, CA a little over a year ago and in this time have immersed myself in the growing “silicon beach” scene on the Westside of LA. I increasingly find myself attending various events, talks and parties. As a newbie to the scene, some conferences and meet ups are worth attending, others are not. But with the ever-growing number of events to go to, most with fees associated...How do you know which ones are best? What is going to be worth your while?

Just this past month, I have attended two formal global conferences: All Things Digital (D10) in Palos Verde, California and LeWeb in London.

A little "team building" exercise for
entrepreneurs by Naish at MaiTai Maui, 2012
Below are some helpful hints on getting the most of out conferences and events.  But the moral of the story? Unconference wins. What are un-conferences? It’s a networking event within a group that the focus is simply socializing.  Forming relationships, meeting new people, and making connections that you can later take to the meeting room. It allows for a much more relaxed, no pressure environment to get to know the potential people you might do business with. Think of it as a party with like-minded people.

So, if you do attend conferences (which we all still have to do). Here’s what I learned:

Real value from any event comes from socializing and meetings in the hallways. Most of my best contacts and favorite contacts are people I’ve met hanging out in the hallway, through friends or at the receptions after.

And for comparison...a classic tech event.  Reminds me
of  college. When I was more interested in checking out
who's in the room than the class itself.
Conferences are a waste of time and money unless you are a) looking to meet investors b) presenting—therefore gaining media attention and recognition amongst your peers c) you are the media d) have specific goals, clients, information, or networking you are looking to gain d)looking for a job, scoping the competition

Think ahead of time what you want out of it, and how you’re going to get it. Rarely do the talks themselves provide valuable enough to attend live when you can just cherry pick the good ones online for free.

Authenticity goes a long way. I have honestly been disappointed by the quality of some of the moderators and interviewers on stage. I can only handle so much ass kissing. I can only handle so much antagonizing. Do your homework. Play fair. And don’t forget, this is an industry conference. People don’t need a 101. They are going because they are already in the industry and are looking for more value. Individuals pay a lot of good money to attend. We want good, honest, interesting questions. If a company is successful, what problems did you face along the way? What are the questions or problems your company is honestly facing right now? How did you overcome you previous challenges? Get specific. We’re here to learn. We’re here to gain insight from those that have been there done that. Whether that’s on the marketplace, the industry as a whole, company issues, or individual thoughts. Just please please give us substance.

Until then, why would anybody pay hundreds to thousands of dollars to attend a conference when I can sit in the comforts of your own home watching the videos stream live or replayed on youtube. 

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