Like most young adults I’ve been to my fair share of conferences for work. I’ve attended them across the street from my office. In East TN so east it’s almost in North Carolina. I’ve had to man booths, I’ve had to sit through boring talks, and even had to give boring talks. But I can honestly say I’ve never been to a good one until the Ultimate Software Connections Conference in Las Vegas, NV 3/7-3/11.
They did some things that I think other event organizers could stand to do, and while it wasn’t perfect (there were a fair few sales pitches, but you come to expect those kinds of things), it provides a good template for how to do a good convention.
- Book A Nice Location: Connections was at the Bellagio. It’s a little pretentious and pricey (especially if you’re doing the reimbursement thing) but staying in a good room and having nice surroundings for daily meetings and breakout sessions made for a much better experience. I don’t even gamble (I lost!) but the variety of locations and the excellent accommodations (I could spend the rest of my life in that bathroom) made for a perfect event atmosphere.
- Have Good Speakers: If you’ve got a keynote make sure your keynote speakers are effective and entertaining. If you have breakout session instructors make sure they are comfortable and interesting presenters. The first keynote was Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs I had no idea what to expect but, he turned out to be a terrific story teller and had the crowd roaring with laughter in minutes. Even the self-help presenter, Chester Elton, did a good job. The session presenters were experienced speakers, and one in particular (Jarik Conrad on the neuroscience of human behavior) actually worked the audience and made for an intriguing session.
- Provide Breaks: I’ve been to too many conferences and conventions that are planned like a ten-year old’s birthday party; scheduled event from beginning to end, and the sessions contain waste-of-time “getting to know you” sections. In a city like Las Vegas, the programmers were smart enough to give essentially two evenings to the attendees to pick what they wanted to do. It let us explore the city, try non-conference food (which was good but you can only have hotel buffet food so often…) and see a few sites. Also between each session there was usually (I planned badly for lunch on Wednesday) a good thirty minutes to take a break.
- Good Entertainment: This is where the convention did its best. Along with Mike Rowe they had Catapult on Wednesday morning and A Cappella group Home Free on Wednesday. Even their appreciation night dinner was good stand up food with a decent DJ. And on the subject of Entertainment…
- Having Journey Play Your Appreciation Night Doesn’t Hurt: First of all no conference I’ve ever been to has had an “appreciation night.” Secondly they had Journey play the show. The new lead singer, Arnel Pineda, worked the crowd like a good front man should and with Steve Perry pushing 70 he might have a bit more power in his voice than the original front man. At least when you could hear him over the crowd singing. At one point the girl in the glasses next to me and I were belting “Don’t Stop Believin’” to each other at the top of our lungs. She was a rockstar in her own right. How often do hear of that kind of performance at a business conference?
It was the first time I ever felt the experience of being on site was actually worth it and it made me appreciate a company that would actually put all this on for their customers. It gives everyone in a cubicle in every industry hope that maybe there next work conference might be a little less manila folder and little more Rock n Roll.