This month I had the opportunity to attend the first ever Midwest Management Summit (http://mms.mnscug.org/). The event was pleasantly well run, and really felt like a hybrid of a user group meeting with an old-style Microsoft Management Summit. Having been involved in a large variety of events over the last decade or so I was surprised that there were several items that I saw during the week which challenged my assumptions of how conferences need to be run. The following are the top five things that challenged my assumptions for how an event needs to be run:
- Food: The cost of food at conferences is HUGE. I worked with Maarten Goet and the Houston User Group to put together an event called "Day-5". The cost of the food was more than HALF of the total cost for the event (actual % was 62% as shown at http://blogs.catapultsystems.com/cfuller/archive/2014/05/28/wrapup-for-the-hasmug-day-5-event-te14d5.aspx). However, if you have a mall next door you don’t have to have food provided throughout (snacks maybe). As an interesting note, in situations like this it actually helps with vendor/sponsor interaction as smart sponsors and attendees will meet over breakfast, lunch or dinner to get some dedicated discussion time!
- Session scheduling: At events that I’ve been involved in, all tracks start and stop at the same time. At this event not all track sessions started and stopped at the same time. This worked well in some cases, and caused challenges in other. This worked well in that it made the attendees feel much more able to come and go from sessions as needed. Another positive to this approach is that it left rooms open many times during the day allowing speakers to do tech checks and speaker prep based upon when the rooms were available.
- Speaker room: Most events have a dedicated speaker room where the speakers can finalize their presentations. As a speaker, I will say that this is beneficial as you often are working with co-presenters and last minute prep is a way of life. This Midwest Management Summit did not have a dedicated speaker room but what happened I think was more interesting. The speakers took a public area with a large table and a number of chairs to work at. This approach allowed attendees to stop in and say hello but also allowed the speakers the time and space required to work on their presentations. This resulted in a much more social approach versus other conferences where the speaker room becomes almost an unofficial no-attendee and speaker hangout zone.
- Event Hours: Event hours can start early and run late – every day. The attendees and speakers who want to get up early are there, and those that want to stay late are there late. The extended hours provides more time for sessions and discussions which is a good thing.
- Q&A: The Midwest Management Summit provide a significant amount of extra time at each session for Q&A. Attendees often have a question that is of critical importance to them and often is a driving reason for why they attended the event. By providing dedicated (and long) timeframes for Q&A this makes it easier for attendees to get those questions answered.
There was a whole lot of other items that I liked about the conference (including the speaker and sponsor interviews, the session bringing together user group coordinators, etc). I would like to thank the crew who put together the Midwest Management Summit for inviting me to speak and I hope to see this event continue in the future!