Physical conferences aren't dead

I'm a big fan of and an active participant in the TFT virtual conferences. I think they are an amazing idea. But will they kill off real-world conferences? Nope. In fact I doubt they'll even cut into their attendance much. A physical conference has five advantages over the virtual:

  1. Discipline: making you listen, and concentrate (as much as your tablet/phone/laptop allows). I still haven't listened to the TFT12 sessions let alone TFT13. I've brought home audio and video recordings from past physical conferences too, and I've never watched them either. We have all the best intentions, but the only way to properly consume conference sessions in any quantity is to lock yourself away in a conference venue with a few hundred others and make the time to do it.
  2. Networking: meeting people in your industry, establishing real relationships. Virtual relationships are not the same; they are a pale shadow of the real thing. There is no substitute for shaking hands, looking in the eye, hugging, chatting at length, eating or drinking together. It's primal: we're animals.
  3. Stimulation: being immersed day and night in presentations, workshops, debates, conversations, and product demonstrations. It gets the juices flowing, fires up the brain, drives thinking.
  4. Serendipity: the happy accident of hearing something you didn't realise you wanted to know. Every conference introduces at least one new idea or direction to me. You might get these ideas serendipitously from say Twitter, but they are much more likely to pass you by. A conference makes you listen until you are educated and persuaded.
  5. Fun: a conference is a boon-doggle. Yes I confess I enjoy the break. One of my best memories of PINK13 is the Which One's Pink cover band, and the Swiss ITIL Forum's dinner at the stunning historic Paxmontana Flüeli Ranft, and the SDI gala dinner at the Edgbaston Stadium, and I'm sure the party at the Aussie LEADit13 next month will be the same, despite all the other great stuff I got from attending.

We're still human. Humans have a fundamental animal need to congregate.

SDI hosted the TFT13 virtual conference, and the attendance at their simultaneous physical SDI13 conference near-doubled, even though TFT13 is free and SDI13 costs a fair bit. I don't think that is an ominous sign for future physical conferences.

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