I returned yesterday from a conference on book publishing, sponsored by the Book Publishers Association of Alberta. I've attended and organized more conferences than I can remember: some of them have been of dubious value while others have changed my life.
Our conference was held at the Banff Centre, a renaissance learning and conference centre located in Banff National Park in the southwestern corner of Alberta. The motto of the Banff Centre is Inspiring Creativity; the location, facilities and the staff fulfill that motto every time I attend a function there.
We enjoyed and learned from most of the presentations, but, for most of us, the best parts of the conference were the conversations, the sharing of ideas and knowledge during coffee breaks and at meals. We spent time talking about publishing, visual arts, business, our families, and new opportunities.
Yesterday after the conference ended four of us sat in the Banff Centre dining room after lunch, knowing that we had hours to drive that afternoon but not wanting to leave. As you can see from my iPhone photograph this is a dining room and an environment which encourages lingering and chatting.
After a long and enjoyable conversation we left, reluctantly, only to resume our chat in the parking lot. Obviously the conference was a success and this long conversation was one of the best parts of it.
Conferences bring us together to learn from each other and to share our hopes and ideas. We cannot always gather in places like the Banff Centre but we now have options of meeting online. Most of us prefer the best of the person-to-person functions but web conferences allow us to meet and learn from people in many countries, people we would not meet otherwise.
If' you are organizing a conference find the best speakers available and ask them to give presentations of which Garr Reynolds, author of Presentation Zen, and the organizers of the TED conferences would approve. Send them a copy of Presentation Zen. Talk with them several times before the conference to ensure that they understand what you want them to do and that they will do it.
Find a location which is both remote and appealing. Pay attention to the quality of food and lodging. Then ensure that the program allows a lot of time for coffee breaks, lunches, dinners and other free time. Invite the best people, provide the best facilities and watch the magic happen.
I'll be attending The BookCamp Vancouver 2009 Unconference on October 16. Perhaps I'll see you there. If not I and many others will be writing blogs and tweets that day and later. Join us in person or online.