Your Conference Experience Is Your Responsibility

by Todd Mintz March 24th, 2010 

Let us suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters....John Locke

Bruce Lee
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.

Leonard Cohen

Todd Mintz

Todd Mintz knows PPC...knows Social Media...knows SEO...knows Blogging...knows Domaining...and knows them all real well. He also is on the Board of Directors at SEMpdx, runs his own side gigs and tweets quite a bit.


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One Response to “Your Conference Experience Is Your Responsibility”

  1. Carri Bugbee says:

    Todd, as you know, I thought Searchfest really stepped it up this year. I learned a lot in the SEO/PPC tracks because that’s not my primary business focus. I learned less in the social media track because that is my primary business focus (plus, I teach a university class in social media marketing), so I do daily research to stay ahead of the curve in that arena.

    After speaking at 15+ conferences and events in the past year, I’ve developed a very different perspective about speaker presentations than the blog post you referenced. I want LESS crowd-sourcing and more stringent vetting of speakers. I like smaller panels and less ad hoc content. I’ve become bored with un-conferences and panels that don’t include well-honed presentations.

    I think the crowd-sourced panels that comprise the bulk of the content at SXSW are mostly lame. The topics that get picked seem like good ideas, but the execution often falls flat because most people aren’t that good at presenting and/or don’t put in the time to analyze and prepare valuable insights (assembling a good preso is VERY time-consuming). Truth be told, I’ve even been on a couple of lame panels myself, but it wasn’t my role to organize them, so there wasn’t anything I could do about it.

    I realize it will take a much higher level of content to surprise and engage me than it will for people who don’t spend many hours a week staying up on the latest. But that doesn't mean the bulk of attendees won't glean an enormous amount of value from the event.

    As I mentioned in my Searchfest wrap-up post for Aimclear (, I’d like to see conferences start offering more beginning and advanced tracks. But even with the content panel I referenced in that post, someone else told me how helpful that panel was to them. And I'm well aware how hard it is to gauge attendance or interest in topics when people don’t even register that far in advance. It might not even be possible.

    Producing an event of this size is not an easy job. Doing it with an all-volunteer team can be utterly exhausting – for no pay. I think you guys did a great job and I look forward to next year’s event.

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