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Is 2009 the year the conference died?

March 18, 2009

businesszoneOriginally written for the excellent folks over at Business Zone.

Here’s a question. Are you planning to attend any conferences this year, maybe one, two or none?

Times are hard, and if you hadn’t noticed, budgets are being cut. So if the answer to the above question is ‘none’ then don’t worry, you’re not alone. Lots of companies will be looking at their 2009 budgets, and making tough decisions on cuts. In this context, conference attendance is an easy target.

But here’s the concern. The annual back slapping, free beer drinking conference season, especially in the tech world, is seen as The Holy Grail. It’s an invaluable chance to network with like-minded peers and bask in the glow of those who have got to the top of the tree. Ok, I am downplaying it a bit, but in the harsh glare of a recession the conference may have to be the sacrificial cow.

Even the multinationals are pulling out of major conferences. Apple attended its last ever Mac World in December and the Computer Electronics Show (CES) attendance for both participants and visitors was down by almost a third.

So is 2009 the year the conference died? Well I wouldn’t bet on it. I think that 2009 will be the year of the micro conference!

A micro conference does exactly what it says on the tin. Thanks to the rise of social networking, it’s a booming business. What’s more these events can usually be found locally and are either free or very low cost.

The Tweetup (Twitter + Meet up) is when online becomes face-to-face and the 140 characters squeezed into a Twitter message finally becomes a meaningful conversation. So a Tweetup is a meeting arranged and advertised on the micro blogging service, Twitter.

The brilliance of the format is its simplicity and open nature. By choosing to follow and attend a meeting with like-minded individuals, you are tailoring a service to your exact interests and needs. The ‘open social’ nature of Twitter also gives you a major head start. Cocktail party questioning goes out the window, as you already know the attendees. It should be straight down to business.

BarCamp a.k.a ‘The Unconference’

Barcamp is an international organisation dedicated to the ‘unconference’. Formed in 2005, it’s volunteer-led. The first BarCamp was held in Palo Alto, California and it’s already exploded into more than 55 countries worldwide.

The BarCamp format is completely based on participation and has developed a reputation for being highly inclusive, local and low cost.

So, if your conference budget has been cut, don’t worry, there are alternatives. The Unconference is a popular model, and it’s spawned a huge number of spin offs like OpenSoho, OpenWeb and WordCamp.

Take a look at Meetup.com or Upcoming.yahoo.com to see for at first hand. If you don’t find anything interesting, why not try hosting one yourself? The techies may dominate, but maybe that means it’s time for mainstream business to take over.

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