"Oh, I don’t actually get much out of the sessions. I really just attend to network. The most important part of these things is what happens in the hallways in between sessions."
In fact, this sentiment was one of the main things that led Harrison Owen to start Open Space as a more (less) formal way of holding a conference.One reason professionals often attend conferences is for self-validation. Being surrounded for a few days by peers who share the same knowledge base you do and attending sessions that confirm that you all do in fact know the things you need to know can be very reassuring.
The question is, is this really the best that professional conferences have to offer?
This fall I attended two events that changed the way I look at conferences. The first was DPM 2013, which I’ve already written about here. It exposed me to a segment of professionals in the PM field who are working towards what may become a new way of approaching work. It includes aspects of agile and traditional pm, but is really neither of those things.
This November, I had the good fortune to be able to present at Øredev 2013 and this is the event that has had the most significant impact on how I view conferences now. This was my 3rd time attending Øredev. It is always enriching and challenging, but this time, I found myself very reluctant to miss any of the session. Each talk I attended introduced me to a new batch of ideas, concepts and ways of working that were unfamiliar to me. Each speaker I watched present, challenged some assumptions or practices I hadn’t previously thought to question. As someone who was firmly in the “It all happens in the hallways” camp, this was a new experience for me. I was more concerned about missing something my brain needed than I was about hanging out in the halls networking. Any decent conference will offer an attendee a chance to learn something, but what makes Øredev stand out is that it requires something more than information consumption.
"Tekhnasthai" keynote given by Anna Beatrice Scott. He said:
"As I was watching her and listening to her, I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated and angry. Then I realized that what was making me frustrated and angry was not her, or her message, it was that she was was challenging my beliefs about work and how to approach it."IMHO, this is the type of bar against which conferences planners should be measuring themselves if their events are going to retain value going forward. And as attendees, we should use the same bar. Going to conferences where we can have our assumptions validated or where we can be passively fed is not enough. In order to grow the profession and grow in our practice of it, we should always be seeking out events that will push and challenge us and leaning into the scary bits.