What Makes a Good Tech Conference?

From the food to the matchmaking and promise of an end-result, what exactly makes a tech conference worth attending?
Technoport 2015

Tech conferences are a dime a dozen these days. When planning to attend one, the question we must all answer is, "is it worth it?"

We know from the response to Technoport 2015 that we are on the right track, but we also know there is room for improvement. How do we focus on building Trondheim's innovation community while attracting outside visitors? How do we ensure that by providing a meeting place for diverse groups such as researchers, students, investors and entreprenuers, that we provide value to all of them?

In June, we held a brainstorming session where 8 of the Technoport crowd gave us their opinions on what they'd like to see in 2016.

Having been to Technoport (twice), InnoTown, Forum Safran, Subsea Valley and Arctic15, I've experienced a lot of different styles of conference, and different ways of doing things.

Based on our brainstorming session and my own personal experience, here are my thoughts on what a tech conference must do.

Do you agree? I'd love to hear your feedback!

A very clear value proposition

The "Exit Path" theme of Arctic15 was very clearly geared towards attracting entrepreneurs who are building companies with the aim of growing and exiting, and the investors that will help them achieve that. To both startups and investors, the benefit of attending was crystal clear. The theme was much more than just marketing though, the entire setup of the conference was geared towards achieving the goal.

A "Deal Room", where pairs could meet and discuss details in pre-booked twenty-minute slots, combined with a speed dating concept ensured every participant could have focused conversations with relevant people. Also, despite some big name speakers, the arena was set up in such a way to encourage people to move about rather than sit in front of the stage all day. There was no expectation that people would come and listen to every presentation, indeed this was actively discouraged.

Startup Extreme had loftier goals: to position Norway as a growing startup location, by showing off the hottest startups and the country itself to international media and investors. The invite-only policy ensured both an air of exclusivity and guaranteed the world's media and investors would meet only the very best.

Technoport's positioning as a meeting place for the diverse groups in Trondheim presents a big challenge in meeting everyone's expectations, but it's a challenge we relish!

Details matter - a great user experience

InnoTown is an expensive event so every little detail must be perfect or the "premium" price tag starts to look inappropriate. From local snacks and drinks to a lavish buffet dinner in an old warehouse, the team just about pulled it off.

Back in Helsinki, the Arctic15 team made a big deal of the food and rightly so, it was excellent. But what left the biggest impression on me was the experience before the event of matchmaking and knowing exaclty who I would meet and when. I had other business to attend to while in Helsinki, so being able to pre-book meetings saved an incredible amount of stress and uncertainty.

As an introvert, one of the things I find most awkward at conferences is the mingling time between sessions. A good range of relevant stands and exhibits is a must to encourage conversation and keep things interesting. At Technoport 2015 we created a few of these gathering points such as the Atari games console, the light rose from Norwegian Creations, and the proximity app experiment. There's definitely more to be done in this area, but I do think we're on the right track.

How about you - what makes a good tech conference?

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