Wednesday, April 17, 2024

"Have To" Conferences vs. "Want To" Conferences

I've recently returned from the Museum Association of New York (MANY) annual conference.  It was a fun and fulfilling event, filled with interesting people, strong session content and keynotes, and a solar eclipse!

It made me think of how often I hear colleagues grudgingly describing some other museum conferences as ones they "have" to attend, as opposed to conferences they "want" to attend.

So what are some of the qualities of conferences (like ACM's InterActivity or ECSITE) that I enjoy, learn from, and WANT to attend?

Size Matters
In my opinion, there is such a thing as a conference that is TOO big. I don't like the feeling of constantly being engulfed in a sea of attendees madly rushing around.  Also, it's often hard to find people in a big mob. I prefer the much less overwhelming regional conferences or the smaller national/international events.

"My" People
Does it feel like the people you meet during a conference have similar interests and concerns?  Or does it feel like you might have wandered into an event where everyone is in a different business than you are?  Some conferences are geared more toward directors, while other gatherings feel more diverse.  I relish reconnecting with trusted colleagues, but I also want to attend an event to expand my network and meet new like-minded folks.

Content is King
In addition to the social aspects of conferences, I want to learn new things and expand my professional knowledge. Are the sessions filled with new and challenging ideas presented by a range of practitioners?  One nice feature of the MANY Conference is that they convert the highest-rated sessions to online presentations so people who couldn't attend the physical conference can still access high-quality content.

Who Cares?
Last but not least, are you left with the feeling that the event organizers actually care about you and your conference experiences?  I've stopped attending some professional gatherings <cough> AAM <cough> where I've felt like the interests of directors and large museums take precedence over exhibit folks and independent museum professionals.

What do you think?  What are the things that make you WANT to attend a conference?  Let us know by leaving a comment below!

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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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