Getting The Most Value From Gatherings, Conferences, And Other Events

I tend to go to a lot of industry events for IT, and specifically, Agile software development.  In fact, I have now been chair, keynote speaker, reviewer and volunteer for many of these and have reprised these roles numerous times.

I have a deep, insider secret that I want to share with everyone who attends events around the world.  This is HUGE so keep it to yourself and really process it.


The event(s) that you attended / are planning to attend are NOT about YOU.

[Take a deep breath]

That’s right.  As difficult as it may be to accept, these events are NOT custom tailored for all of your personal needs.  The events are designed to meet the basic needs of hundreds and even thousands of people.  Even at the workshop or classroom level, it’s not solely about YOU.

Picture in your mind the last time you planned a dinner with your close family and/or friends.  Was it very easy to pick the restaurant? the dates/times?  Did everyone enjoy themselves?  Were there issues, complaints, etc.?  Did you achieve your purpose?

Now try planning an entire day’s worth of meals for that same group of family and friends… and activities to keep them happy for the day.  Now, multiply that by 3-5 days.  Now, multiply that by 600-2400 people… from 36-100 different countries and cultures around the world… at a venue in a country that is outside your own country.

Are you starting to get an idea of the complexity involved with just the logistics portion of planning these events?  Many people I talk to won’t even try to plan events on a smaller scale because it is too challenging, let alone a large scale event.

On the other hand, I hear from many people how they would love to do “event planning”; how cool it is or how “neat” it would be.  I just smile and listen to them describe the shangri-la of arranging the event… from the perspective of someone who likes to plan and go on vacations.  Most people have no sense of the bigger picture and what it takes to coordinate large scale events.

When we solicit feedback from the attendees, I am really saddened to read how much focus there is on things like:  water and coffee supply, available selection dietary restrictions, frequency of breaks, and other logistics related items.

My advice is this:

If you want great coffee, all day long; go to Starbucks.

If you need to eat every 1-2 hours and/or have exotic dietary restrictions; bring a snack.

If you tend to get cold, bring a sweater.

If you tend to get hot, wear shorts.

If you don’t like a session, move on to another one.

If you don’t like any of the sessions, start submitting YOUR topics.

If you don’t like any of this advice and are still unhappy with the event, stop going…


Give some constructive ways to change it that revolve around the content and substance of the event.  But in doing so, don’t dwell on the lower-level needs in Maslow’s hierarchy because as a human being, those needs will inherently dictate what you do, where you do it, and when you do it.  Your body will figure it out.

Instead, think about how many other people are there at the event.  What would be beneficial to the greatest number of people? 

Or, maybe there are topics that are extremely and critically important for a significant number of people. 

Or, maybe if the topic is so narrow in scope, you need to plan your own event with a very small number of those SMEs that represent that niche topic. 

Or, maybe if you are looking for very specific personal advice, mentoring, coaching, etc. you (or your organization) need to hire a coach so that your individual or organizational agenda is met.

When you go to large events, try to take the perspective of the event conveners and staff.  They are busting their asses and brains to please as many people as they possibly can within the constraints they have.  It’s not that they don’t care about you and what you want or need.  It’s more like they have 600-2400 “yous” to deal with. 

If something isn’t meeting your expectations, chances are, it isn’t because the staff didn’t think about it. 

There probably isn’t all-day coffee and water because the really nice venue (did you notice how nice it was?) wants to charge about $130,000 for that service.  Are you willing to pay an extra $200 on your registration to have coffee and water all-day, each day?  That’s about $67 / day for a 3 day event or about 10 high-end Starbucks drinks / day.

Not everyone wants coffee.  Are you willing to pay that much so that the coffee drinkers can get their fix?  Personally, I am too focused on learning and interacting to worry about the other things.

Want coffee?  Go to Starbucks. 

Or, your favorite local coffee shop.

Or, just go to the venue restaurant and order a coffee to go.  Win-win.  You get EXACTLY what you want.  😉

We are serving hot, steaming, rich, full-bodied conversations, talks, and workshops about Agility.

My goal as an event convener is to take you out of your comfort zones a little bit; to whet your appetites and make you hungry from an intellectual perspective. 

From a physical perspective, I just want to make sure we are reasonably meeting your minimum biological needs so that you can sustain that brain of yours to absorb, think, feel, express, etc. 

I love, absolutely LOVE, when someone comes to me and says something like “…there was this one moment when you were talking about the butterflies and you mentioned that you would not be amongst them because you aren’t ‘pretty’ enough.  It had a bit of a chilling or closing effect to me, even though I know you were trying to be funny.  I thought ‘Well, Daniel is a nice looking guy.  If he doesn’t feel like he is attractive enough to be a butterfly, then I definitely am not eligible.’”

That is useful to me.

When someone complains about the venue, I get really bored.  If there is a fire, pull the fire alarm and dial 911 (or similar emergency number).  Otherwise, maybe just try to get engaged to the point where you don’t notice those things?

I am not planning these things to be little vacations for you. 

I am hoping they will be deep and meaningful experiences for you that will help you to grow and will last a lifetime.

All that said, hope to see you in Phoenix.