Often conferences feel a bit to me like the three bears – some too large, most too small, and few just right. Larger conferences often have more choices, and bigger thought leaders, but lack the ability to truly get value from networking (especially since you’re traveling from building to building between sessions and due to the sheer volume of people). Small conferences often need to resort to salesy presentations, less interesting venues, and bland food to keep costs in check. I’m not saying all are bad, but it’s rare I find events that are done just right. Unconferences sometimes come close to scratching my itch for the ideal experience, but their venues are often offices or classrooms turned to a makeshift meeting space. And even when their content is great, they can lack the motivation that can come from a well polished keynote speaker.

Attendee Only Content - Not Shared Via Social

In 2008 I found a conference that seemed just right. It was an SEO conference called ScarySEO, and had all the attributes I thought were important from a large show, but with the intimacy only a small event can provide. It featured some of the biggest thought leaders in search at the time, but only had about 150 attendees so you could actually get questions answered and network with those you engaged with in social media. I was so impressed that in 2009 I watched their entire 2nd conference (IM Spring Break) via a livestream (because I was unable to travel to the event). These events were reborn in 2010 as Blueglass LA, and this week I am attending the encore, Blueglass LA 2012.

Blueglass is doing a great job covering a lot of content presented at the event, but what I thought I would share are some tips I captured from the actual logistics of the event, giving everyone some event best practices to take home with them:

  • Most notably, this event was highlighted as an experience – not a conference. While this may seem like semantics, I believe the event coordinators really considered this through all of their planning, looking at the entire event from the attendees’ perspective instead of just doing the event norm.
  • Second, this event has attendee only content. The event literally had a sign that would be put up when attendees were being given the inside scoop – asking the attendees not to share socially. This means that attendees received benefits that those keeping track via social would never be able to share in. This also meant that there were times when speakers could be exceptionally candid, sharing their exact thoughts, not just the ones that were considered publically acceptable.
  • Two-sided nametags (names on both sides) were used at the event. A small detail? Yes. But I am awful at names so always being able to see the name of the person next to me was super useful. The thoughtful details continued with power being available for charging computers and laptops via a power strip at every table.
Chris Brogan and Brian Clark (Copyblogger) at BlueGlass LA 2012
  • This event also featured a hybrid of presentations and panel sessions. In this model, a panel of three speakers was brought up for each topic. Each presenter focused on a few slides in the presentation, but then Q&A was shared between the panel members. This was extremely efficient, as the attendees had the ability to learn from multiple people on a topic, without sacrificing networking time and without having to choose between different breakout sessions.
  • Another detail that helped was that there were agendas on every table that summarized each session. Each summary included an avatar of the presenters, so at any time you could check out the sheet to see who was speaking. Typically during panel sessions I am left trying to remember the name of each person on stage, but with the avatars available I could easily know who was presenting at any given moment just by matching the avatar with the speaker.
  • And finally, instead of spending the whole time taking notes, I was able to just watch the presentations because Blueglass did a blog summary of every session at the event (sans the special attendee only content).

As event marketers and event attendees know, a successful conference goes far beyond the content. This one did a great job educating and delighting – a powerful mix. Can you think of other events that have taken a unique approach or have additional tips that could make a conference like this event better?