IT and Conferences - Now There's An Idea

Net Log John Makulowich

IT and Conferences - Now There's An Idea

Continuing the theme about conferences, workshops and seminars found in my last few columns, I wanted to turn to the surprising absence of the use of information technology at decidedly IT-focused conferences.

The recent Knowledge Management conference in Boston, organized by DCI, provides a model for minimalists.

Yes, the Web site heralding its first-ever knowledge management event provided forms to register online. Yet, in an irony noted by some attendees, there was a lack of knowledge management evident in the event itself.

Beyond the daily schedule of talks and routine profiles of keynoters in the standard HTML table or frame format, there was virtually no imaginative interactivity for users connected to the Internet, no access to data such as registration lists, no way to submit comments about the sessions online, no collection of replies by presenters to questions from the audience, no post-conference summary, assessment, evaluation and so on.

I am the first to admit conferences are much more than simply talks and presentations. They often involve exhibitors highlighting their products, processes and services; companies hosting social events for attendees to network; and colleagues looking for an opportunity to chat about their research and new funding initiatives.

So what's my point? It's the conference managers' general lack of imagination and customer focus, which - with a little planning - could increase the value of the conference for all parties, especially given the cost of attendance.

Some examples? Let's start at the beginning. At registration time, the attendee would be assigned a password and could be asked at least two questions: Would you mind your e-mail address distributed to other attendees, exhibitors and corporate sponsors? Would you like to pose questions or suggest topics for the presenters or panelists to address during their sessions? I would guess most people would answer affirmatively to both questions. The result could be a more valuable experience.

How? First, with the password, attendees could look up colleagues or those coming using their zip codes, industry or profession. This could enhance networking and business opportunities. Exhibitors could identify competitors as well as potential contacts to profile their wares. And companies could plan special events for like-minded or like-skilled attendees, for example, those from a specific government agency or state and local agencies in general.

Of course, I write this with a degree of self-interest. As a trade journalist, the more contact I have with attendees, sponsors and exhibitors, the more completely I can cover a conference and the more likely I am to uncover new developments, trends, products, etc. I would welcome attendees knowing about my presence and my willingness to talk about their companies or organizations.

Is there likely to be a change in the future? Frankly, I don't think so. Conference management companies tend to go with what works and are not models of thought leaders. It's a shame, because one area in which IT and the Internet could make a serious difference is in conferences, workshops and seminars.

You can send John e-mail at john@journalist.com; his Web address is www.cais.com/makulow/.


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