Enter The Dragon
I am one of the SEMpdx Board Members who assisted in putting on SearchFest 2010, Portlands one day search marketing conference. Were very happy with how we pulled off the event and overall, the reviews were very favorable.
There was one unfavorable reviewand while the author is certainly entitled to her opinion and I respect it, something about what she said and how she said it rubbed me the wrong way.
Other than the glorious mess that is South by Southwest, most conferences follow a reasonably standard format. Paneled speakers are asked to speak on various topicseach of them presents for a short time during the session with audience questions saved for the end. Generally, there is a keynote speech at the beginning of the day, lunch & 1-2 refreshment breaks, and networking with adult beverages at the end of the day. Some speakers are better than others; some venues are better than others; and there are always scattered (frequently valid) complaints about food / wifi / restrooms / temperature / uncomfortable chairs, etc.
As I read through her post, totally absent was any acknowledgement of personal responsibility in the process of making her conference experience worthwhile. Its quite possible that the best action going on isnt the presentation happening right in front of you. Perhaps its in the hallway or the bar. Perhaps its people on Twitter in different rooms or folks not even at the conference. It's up to the attendee to seek out their optimum conference experience. If you attend a conference with 350 other people with a shared interest and cant find any value anywhere, the person most responsible for the situation is the one staring back at you in the mirror.
When I quote John Locke above, I do so because he puts forth the theory of tabula rasa (blank slate). If you attend a search marketing conference (or any similar event) with your mind open to possibility of learning, sharing & networking, you are likely to have a meaningful experience even if aspects of the event arent to your liking. If you attend with a predetermined agenda and your expectations arent aligned with your experience, sure, youll have a lousy time.
Reading her post reminds me of the person who can never get into / stay in a romantic relationship. When you listen to her / him, each of their individual dramas might cast them as the unfortunate victim but the overall tenor of what they are saying and how they are saying it suggests that their relationship failures are entirely personal brought on by their baggage taken into each new relationship.
Ive been to a decent number of search conferences now and my most memorable experiences did not happen during the sessions. I snuck onto (uninvited) the speakers bus to the final Google Dance party at SES San Jose 2008. I had an unexpected discussion of the merits of the final scene of Antonionis The Passenger with Robert Charlton at lunch. I had a memorable dinner with friends at Pubcon, eavesdropped on a fascinating discussion with Matt Cutts, Ben Huh & other very smart strangers, and blew off conference networking entirely to go to a Leonard Cohen concert at Caesars Palace. These wonderful happenings only could have occurred because I left my baggage in my hotel roomhad I brought it with me, I would have missed out.
Each SEMpdx Board Member has read all the attendee feedback for SearchFest 2010 and were already talking about how to make SearchFest 2011 an even better event for our guests. We will give all our attendees a platform for learning and networking and leave it up to them to best take advantage of it.