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Naresh Jain's Random Thoughts on Software Development and Adventure Sports
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Why I don’t believe in Organizing Large Scale Conference?

Over the last 7 years, with the help of various passionate folks, I’ve organized 50+ conferences. (Agile India Conferences, Simple Design and Testing Conference, Agile Coach Camp and CodeChef TechTalks to name a few.)

Most of these conferences were small to medium scale conferences in the range of  50 to 375 delegates.

Why we never organized larger conferences? Was it because we were not capable of organizing them? Or was there something stopping us from doing so?

Personally I prefer organizing small scale conference over large scale conference for the following reasons:

  • In my experience the quality of interaction and experience speakers & participants have is inversely proportional to the size of the conference.
  • Cost to run the conference exponentially increases with size. As the size increases:
    • we need a bigger venue, which does impose a significant cost.
    • overall logistics becomes lot more complex. Need extra planning and coordination. Again increasing cost and making the overall plan less adaptive.
    • the participant price has to be increased – which means, most participants won’t be able to self fund their registration. They’ll depend on their companies to sponsor them. This leads to many people who actually do get sponsored by their companies are the ones less inclined to learn at the conference. Which again impacts the overall quality experience of others participants.
    • we become more dependent on the sponsors. The more we are dependent on sponsors, more their demands. Inevitably leading to compromising the conference. Sometimes sponsors want speaker slots (esp. keynotes) for sponsorship. Also they further complicate the logistics.
  • Are less inclusive from smaller companies and individual’s point of view. Cost is one aspect, but also because there would be a larger number of participants from big companies, the interactions at the conference take a very different dynamics.
  • Right from the beginning, large conference have a fear of not attracting enough delegate and sponsors. To mitigate that risk, most large conference programs are filled with Big names. Who mostly present the same old topics which have been beaten to death over a decade. We like it or not, the overall program tends to be more focused on basics (least common denominator) and seems to attract mostly beginners who are willing to pay that kind of money. Innovative and disruptive ideas are mostly neglected. Because they would really be disruptive for the audience.
  • Because of the previous point, the real practitioners, doing really meaningful work, tend to shy away from such conferences. Again leading to poorer quality conference.
  • Marketing and Branding effort: Large conferences need huge effort and funds to market and brand themselves. Smaller conferences are mostly marketing and branded through word of mouth and these days with social media.
  • The effort and time it takes to organize one large, centrally located conference, in that much time, we could easily organizer 3-4 smaller, more local conferences. Smaller conferences surely reduce the costs for participants. Smaller conferences encourages more of a distributed, sustainable, local community.

I could spend rest of my sunday afternoon thinking about this and I’m sure I’ll come up with 10 more points against large conference. Having said that, large conference do have some clear advantages that smaller conference cannot achieve. the splash, the penetration, cross pollination, etc. etc.

However I think its clear, at least to me, why I prefer smaller conference.

It cool to have thought thru the issues and to have the points flushed out. But to avoid dogmatism, its always important to reevaluate your points every few years. Which is one of the reasons, I decided to help organize Agile India 2012 Conference.

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