Having just returned from PodCampAZ in Phoenix, Arizona I keep thinking about why I enjoy this conference so much, and in fact, why I enjoy smaller conferences in general. For me, there seems to be a lot “more” to be gained from “less”.
PodCampAZ, now in its third year, attracted over 600 attendees and yet still had the feeling of a small conference. Every year I am amazed at the friendliness of the people in attendance and the quality of the content being shared. It carries much the same feeling as the earlier PodCast and New Media Expos held in Ontario, California when podcasting was just getting started. I certainly hope this can be continued in the future.
It could be my small town upbringing, but I almost always enjoy smaller conferences more than larger, seemingly more prestigious, conferences. These larger conferences offer presenttions by many A-listers, but I find myself looking for the less known, the underheard, the underseen speakers. I find that these speakers are still passionately engaged in their topics. In the case of podcasting, the speakers at PodCampAZ are, for the most part, still actively involved in podcasting, vlogging and blogging. They have current and practical information on the challenges they face and how they address those challenges. I believe that these people have more to offer me as their challenges and solutions are based on something that happened days and weeks ago instead of years.
While A-listers can certainly help conference organizers attract larger crowds, bigger sponsors and higher registration fees, I am not sure a long list of A-List presenters is in the best interest of the attendees. In many cases, there are a hundred different sources where attendees can learn what the A-list speaker has to say. The speaker has probably produced hundreds of blog items, newsletters and, typically, a book or two. Is there really much more to be gained from hearing them present these same ideas in front of an audience? I know that too often I find these speakers are simply re-hashing a bare summary of the materials presented elsewhere – condensing and honing it to the point where it loses its usefulness.
Even worse, many A-Listers are often no longer actively engaged in the area in which they are an expert. It is natural that as someone matures in their work, they end up doing less and less of the day-to-day activities which made them an expert in the first place. Sure, their higher level view of an industry or activity is welcome, and often useful, but I also find that, over time, they are talking more and more about less and less. It is very difficult to become an “expert” in an area of study while still actively working in that area. There simply isn’t time.
In that light, I will continue to seek out, and possibly organize, smaller conferences, meetups, mastermind groups and more. I will seek out those underheard voices that bring the newest, deepest and most applicable knowledge to those who need it most. Sure, I will read and listen to what A-listers have to say. Their view from the heights can illuminate things in interesting ways, but I won’t be seeking them out at conferences, classes and other speaking engagements. While I may have been deeply interested in what they had to say as they made their way up the expert ladder, once they reach the heights, I find their information less useful on a day-to-day, down to earth basis.