Time for the Digital Conference Scene to Evolve

Businesswoman Preparing for PresentationRecently I had the opportunity to attend a local event sponsored by LaBreche and Twin Cities Business named: Reputations. The keynote? None other than Chris Brogan. The event also featured a solid panel of communicators and leaders from local agencies and organizations like Best Buy and Select Comfort (disclaimer: client).

Leading up to the event, I was both excited and skeptical. Excited to hear how a major brand like Best Buy manages its reputation online. Skeptical because I have heard the same song and dance a few too many times now.

Unfortunately, like a number of other folks at the event, I left a little disappointed.

No reflection on the organizers or hosts, but this particular event just didn’t help advance my professional development. And, isn’t that what professional/industry conferences are all about (even though, technically, I will admit, this wasn’t really an industry event)?

Yes, I know there’s a networking element. For me, it’s one of the main reasons I attend most of the events I do. And the connections and friendships I have made over the years have been invaluable.

But, I also want to learn. And right now, when it comes to digital events, largely, that’s just not happening (at least not to the level I’d like it to).

Over the last year, I’ve been to a number of digital PR and marketing events. It seems like we may be preaching and talking about the same issues and topics now that we were six months ago.

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What’s more, as I observe conferences and events across the country, I see the same names popping up as keynotes and session leaders. I know it’s a revenue stream for the A-listers and others (heck, I even list “Speaking” on my blog—although I’ve never made a dime from it), but how many times do we need to see and hear from the same people over and over again? Can’t I learn just as much—if not more—from someone like Chris Brogan from his blog and e-newsletter? Chris gives so much away for free—it’s one of the main reasons the guy has 100K-plus followers on Twitter.

Before I get too far down the road here, let me stop right there. I’ve never been one to complain and not offer up ideas, so here are a few things I’d like to see happen on the digital event scene in 2010:

  • More mid-level speakers. Here’s the problem with asking VIPs to speak. They don’t actually do the work. They’re typically brilliant people. Tremendous speakers. But, they’re not on the front lines. I want to hear from the folks in the trenches sometimes. What’s working? What isn’t? What surprised you? Simple but potentially fairly interesting questions.
  • Grade out events. It might be time we start assigning “grade levels” to events so we can tell what’s appropriate and useful given our particular experience and skill set. I may be missing the boat completely, but right now, there just doesn’t seem to be that many events catering to the more advanced or experienced practitioner. Am I wrong?

  • More case studies. Yes, more. I know there are hundreds of case studies out there (if you haven’t seen Peter Kim’s wiki yet, check it out). But, that doesn’t mean I still don’t want to hear from the folks working for brands that are strategizing and implementing within the four walls of the organization day in and day out. You know the best event I’ve been to all year? BlogWell last August at General Mills here in Minneapolis. Hands down. They brought in communicators and marketers from Fortune 500 companies to talk about how they’re strategizing and executing. Real-life examples from the people who are actually doing the work. It was fantastic. Kudos to the GasPedal team. More, please.

Think back to the last digital event you attended. Did you learn anything new? What would you like to see in future digital PR conferences? I’d like to hear some meaningful feedback from you because judging from what I’ve been hearing lately, I’m not alone in this opinion.

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