1-to-1, face-to-face, mano-a-mano, tete-a-tete…business is always about conversation.  It may be that the arena in which these conversations changes as time passes, however the key element of communication remains.

I really see the benefit of attending events where I can meet colleagues, competitors, experts and potential clients in a convivial atmosphere where conversation can be open and fruitful.

However I would also accept that for the majority of people the standard format for events and conferences are not conducive to creating connections as they rely on people being sufficiently motivated to initiate conversation.

Luckily this issue is being accounted for in the set-up of events – not least in the fairly new ‘unconference’ format.  I was fortunate to participate in the recent Recruitment Unconference held in London and can not recommend this form of conference enough. (A follow up is planned for February).

An unconference presents subjects as tracks that are led by selected leaders..and to be honest this is as structured as it gets!  Each track is given a space, an estimated timeframe and a leader who is there to inspire and, in some cases, referee. As these are smaller groups, and participants have the freedom to move between tracks, questions and subsequent discussions are constant and on a more personal level.

Certainly from those people I spoke to the feedback regarding this format indicated great support for the model, as most attendees had come away with information that was not ‘one-size-fits-all’ but instead reflected answers to some of the questions they had arrived with.

However, it is not just about changing formats entirely – it seems to me that consultants are becoming aware that they need to provide a variety of options that suit businesses if they are to truly reach people.

Certaintly part of this is pricing – some events this year have been priced out of contention for many businesses not least in the climate in which we have found ourselves in 2009.  Added to this, it has been difficult for businesses to justify having members of their team out of the office, especially as the conventional events cannot guarantee sufficient return on this investment. As I look at those events already scheduled for 2010, I see some acknowledgement of these problems (even if it is a little late).

Consultants, such as those at EngageFirst, are creating a variety of formats for their events in January 2010 from casual networking events, one-to-one consultancy/company-focused workshops and larger scale presentations.  They have acknowledged the need to provide businesses with a more personalised, cost-efficient method to educate staff and provide opportunities for like-minded businesses to converse.

What are your experiences of conferences etc?  Have they been useful to your business??  Are they just talking-shops with no real effect?? Should businesses even consider them at this time of cutbacks and consolidation?

Comment below – am interested to hear your thoughts:)