Chris Corrigan has a great post on objections to participation in conferences. I’ve learnt a lot from conversations with Chris over the years and what he says here is spot on.
One thing he said a while ago that has always stuck with me is the question: what sort of assumptions about participants are we making when we design this event? This is worth talking about as I find a lot of processes are basically designed out of fear as if most or all participants will be disruptive difficult and obstructive. Needless to say, if you design this way, you’re hardly setting up to create a positive, participatory event.
In this post, Chris reinforces the point. He challenges the assumption that
The responsibility for the experience rests with the organizers, not the participants.
He points out the pitfalls of this approach:
This is to some extent true although it does a great disservice to most conference design. Assuming that you as a planning committee have to deliver a great experience for everyone is neither possible nor productive. You are never going to make everyone happy, so leave that idea behind. And you aren’t going to get all the content right. The best traditional conferences meet some of the expectations of participants most of the time, meaning that there are large blocks of time that don’t meet people’s expectations. And so the default setting for most participants is to spend thousands of dollars on a passive experience, taking some interest in workshops or speeches and spending the rest of the time self-organizing dinners, coffee breaks and other chances to connect with friends old and new. Another word for a conference that takes thousands of your dollars and leaves you finding your own way is “a racket.”