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Psychochild has yet another interesting weekend challenge up… what features make for a good conference, more specifically a good “professional conference”?

My list would be as follows, riffing off some of the comments already posted as well as my own experiences with non-gaming-related conferences…

Downtime is good, but directed downtime is better.  Downtime works best for the innately gregarious, they’re the ones that find their way into those interesting discussions that everyone wants to be a part of.  As a classical (almost clinical) introvert, the agenda/structure gives me the reason/excuse/invitation to participate that I need to achieve a reasonable comfort level.

I obviously prefer smaller sizes, as well… wading thru crowds is problematic for me to begin with, since they trigger an automatic and occasionally rather drastic “fight-or-flight” response in me.  (I don’t bother trying to visit the exhibition halls very often, let’s put it that way.)  AGC 2006’s exhibition hall was right at my limit of tolerance in terms of crowding, to set a marker in the sand.

Finding ways to channel people of similar interests but different experiences into locations/groups is probably good.  Roundtables can achieve this, for example, if you spread them out and let people mingle freely after the “official” time slot is over.  If you are chasing one group out of the room to let the next in, however… not so good.

I’d also agree with shorter is better… 2-3 days is probably the sweet spot, depending upon travel time.  I’ve personally found that single day conferences can feel very “rushed” and less valuable if you don’t live in the immediate area or at most a short (1 hour or so) flight away.  After all, in that situation you probably lose the day before and the day after to simply getting there/getting home…

Video (or at least audio) recordings of the various presentations should be standard, in my opinion, and made available as quickly as possible (i.e. same day).  Frankly, some of the presentations could/should be taped pre-conference, then offered up as potential fodder for scheduled and/or impromptu roundtable sessions… people can at least bat ideas back and forth at their leisure, even if the original presenter isn’t there.

On a related note, I’m thinking about avoiding multi-presenter panels entirely from now on… too little info, usually not very coordinated, and then too little Q+A at the end because everyone on the panel needed their 5 minutes and more just to outline what they wanted to say, let alone explain it to any significant degree.

Hmmm, guess that’s my two cents on that…

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