good conference ideas from the IA Summit: a photo essay
I was at the IA Summit in Vegas back in March (my first one) and the conference planners did a lot of things that I would categorize as Good Conference Ideas. I started writing this post weeks ago (while I was still in Vegas, in fact) and, having just returned from CiL, where a lot of these ideas would have worked really well, I thought it was time to polish off this post and get it up here. So, here you go then, a photo essay of Good Conference Ideas (that are definitely worth stealing).
Idea #1: Useful Icebreakers
The idea here is simple: all conference attendees get a pack of trading cards (all the same) and if you collect the complete set by the end of the conference, you get entered into a draw to win a prize (no conference swag prizes either – the first prize they gave out was a free trip to next year’s Summit! But, that’s beside the point…). At the Summit, there were 16 cards, all with an IA/UX methodology or principle on it (e.g. card # 1 was usability testing, card #2 was wireframes, etc.) and an accompanying checklist where you could keep track of the cards you had and what you needed (I scribbled down the cards #s I needed on the back of my hand for even easier access!). Also, conference newbies got certain sets of cards and the old-timers got different sets, which means (you guessed it), newbies & old-timers actually had to talk! It was one of the best conference ice-breakers I’ve been a part of and the cards themselves are pretty, glossy, and amazingly useful! [image by evoljen]
Idea #2: Fun Icebreakers
A conference can never have too many icebreakers, that’s what I always say. Other than the trading cards, there was some informal “nametagging” going on. Nametagging is simple: you jot down tags on your badge to describe yourself. A number of great conversations were started as a result of the nametagging and, towards the end of the conference, people started nametagging each other (see above: I was tagged “rockin_librarian” by another IA/librarian person, heh!). Also? I saw a number of people with the word “hiring” on their badges. Way to make it useful!
Idea #3: “At-a-Glance” beats fumbling through the programme
When I was handed the EXTRA-LARGE badge holder at the registration desk on the first day, I was a bit baffled by the size. Then I flipped it over and it made all the sense in the world. Tucked into the back of our name cards was a tri-fold conference at-a-glance flyer, complete with times, session titles, and location. I like to be as “light” as possible when I conference, which means I usually opt for the bare essentials, and the conference programme almost never makes the cut (if it comes down to my laptop power cord or the conference programme, I bet you can guess which one wins). So having the conference programme in an easy-glance format on the back of my name badge was brilliant (and I think you can even pull it off without super-sizing your badge holders).
Idea #4: A Mentor Table
I’m still kicking myself for not getting a picture of the Mentoring Booth in full swing because that’s when it was at its best. They had a Mentoring Booth set up near the registration desk throughout the duration of the conference. When there was no mentor at the booth, there was a sign-up sheet where you could leave your name and email address for one of the mentors to get in touch with you (or you could just stop by later when someone was there). The mentoring idea made a lot of sense at the Summit since you’re pretty much dealing with information architects (and other, similar types, like user experience designers, interaction designers, etc.). I’m not sure this would work at the larger library conferences, but it would probably work at conferences that have an audience or subject focus.
Idea #5: Democracy!
It was the neatest thing, as soon as the preliminary programme was posted to the IA Summit website, this blurb appeared on the page: “Help us to manage the demand – vote for your can’t-miss sessions.” The top-five most voted-for sessions appeared twice in the programme. Awesome! This was probably manageable due to the size of the conference — 3 concurrent tracks, 60-ish sessions in total — but could easily be adapted to larger conferences (I’m guessing, having never organized a conference myself).
Idea #6: Flex Tracks
(I don’t expect you to read that; click for legible size) The Flex Track was a barcamp-style, “unconference“-ish track where the organizers set aside a room, left a blank column on the programme, blew up said programme, and mounted it outside the flex track room. A couple of the most-popular sessions (see “Democracy” above) were added to the flex track, and other ad-hoc sessions were penciled in by participants. The flex track ended up being a mixture of vendor demos, updates on projects & interesting stuff people were working on, and some navel-gazing about professional issues. While I didn’t actually attend any of the flex track sessions (too many of the regular sessions were on interesting & new-to-me topics), but I loved the idea and I could see it working well at any conference.
Idea #7: Podcasting
Nothing revolutionary here, a lot of conferences podcast some/all of their sessions. What I did like, however, was that at the Summit, the organizers indicated the sessions that were podcasted with a big, red “P” beside the name of the session on the programmes mounted outside the conference rooms. Such a simple idea, but one that really helped me make up my mind when I was torn between sessions!
Idea #8: Madness
The image at left is the line-up of participants at “5 Minute Madness” which closed out the conference. Apparently a Summit tradition, 5 Minute Madness follows the closing keynote (for about 45 minutes) and the idea is that anyone can come up, grab the microphone for 5 minutes, and say, well, anything. Some mentioned that they were hiring and encouraged attendees to track them down for details, others recounted something they learned at the conference; one of the participants thanked her staff for their hard work, and others thanked the conference organizers. There was laughter, tears (seriously) and celebration, the candid words from the participants really made me feel like I was part of a tight community and I couldn’t think of a better way to close out an already excellent conference experience.